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Daily Archives: January 29, 2011


Internet “kill switch” legislation back–and no judicial review authorized

What was one of the first thing done by the Egyptian government when protests started to seriously build into threatening government’s further existence?  It turned off the internet.  That is, it abruptly ordered it be shut down along with cell phones in order to hamstring the protesters ability to communicate and coordinate and to not allow tweets, emails and liveblogs from recording the situation for the rest of the world.

It couldn’t happen here, though, could it?

A controversial bill handing President Obama power over privately owned computer systems during a "national cyberemergency," and prohibiting any review by the court system, will return this year.

Yes, it’s back.  And the same sponsors who tried to get it through Congress the last time around are sponsoring it again.

Internet companies should not be alarmed by the legislation, first introduced last summer by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), a Senate aide said last week. Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

"We’re not trying to mandate any requirements for the entire Internet, the entire Internet backbone," said Brandon Milhorn, Republican staff director and counsel for the committee.

Instead, Milhorn said at a conference in Washington, D.C., the point of the proposal is to assert governmental control only over those "crucial components that form our nation’s critical infrastructure."

Uh, yeah – that’s those are the same “crucial components” that Egypt used to cut its people off from the rest of the world.   And somehow we’re supposed to trust government not to use its power in ways not yet imagined and certainly not wanted?

I don’t think so.

Portions of the Lieberman-Collins bill, which was not uniformly well-received when it became public in June 2010, became even more restrictive when a Senate committee approved a modified version on December 15. The full Senate did not act on the measure.

The revised version includes new language saying that the federal government’s designation of vital Internet or other computer systems "shall not be subject to judicial review." Another addition expanded the definition of critical infrastructure to include "provider of information technology," and a third authorized the submission of "classified" reports on security vulnerabilities.

I don’t know about you but given government overreach in the last two years, I see nothing about this that gives me a warm fuzzy.  And I certainly don’t want anything to do with a bill which gives the executive or legislative branch power not subject to judicial review.   That’s how rights get trampled.

And yes, friends, it’s all about protecting you from, well, something:

"For all of its ‘user-friendly’ allure, the Internet can also be a dangerous place with electronic pipelines that run directly into everything from our personal bank accounts to key infrastructure to government and industrial secrets," he said.

Hey Joe, I’m a big boy – I’ll take care of myself… hands off the Internet, m’kay?

But they won’t.  You know it and they know it.   Its there and since it is there it must be taxed, regulated and controlled by government.

Here’s the initial criteria for the supposed “vital internet or other computer systems”:

Under the revised legislation, the definition of critical infrastructure has been tightened. DHS is only supposed to place a computer system (including a server, Web site, router, and so on) on the list if it meets three requirements. First, the disruption of the system could cause "severe economic consequences" or worse. Second, that the system "is a component of the national information infrastructure." Third, that the "national information infrastructure is essential to the reliable operation of the system."

At last week’s event, Milhorn, the Senate aide, used the example of computers at a nuclear power plant or the Hoover Dam but acknowledged that "the legislation does not foreclose additional requirements, or additional additions to the list."

Yeah, “just give us this little bit – no more”.  Uh huh.  The proverbial camel’s nose under the tent that is not subject to judicial review.  Let me stress that for the third time  – none of this, if passed into law, is reviewable by the judiciary. And, of course, once passed, they won’t decide other parts of the infrastructure belong on there, will they? Oh, no.

As Berin Szoka of TechFreedom says, “blocking judicial review of this … essentially says that the rule of law goes out the window if a major crisis occurs.”

Well, yeah … and guess who gets to decide what is a “major crisis”?  Without judicial review. 

Sound good to you?

~McQ

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