Proposed Bill Gives Obama Power to Shut Down Internet

A new cybersecurity bill being proposed would give the President emergency authority to halt web traffic and access private data, effectively declaring martial law on the web.

Last week, senators John Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe proposed the Cybersecurity Act that would create the Office of the National Cybersecurity Advisor. Its powers are detailed in the The Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (PDF), and this is where it gets very scary indeed.

If the President so chooses, he can call a “cybersecurity emergency” and shut down or limit any ‘net traffic on a “critical” network “in the name of national security,” though the bill fails to provide concrete definitions on what is “critical” or what constitutes an “emergency.”

The Secretary of Commerce would also have the power to “access to all relevant data concerning [critical] networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access.”

“We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs – from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records-the list goes on,” said Senator Rockefeller in a statement. His colleague, Senator Snowe, took the metaphor further saying, “if we fail to take swift action, we, regrettably, risk a cyber-(hurricane) Katrina.”

As you can imagine, the thought of such powers has put a number of internet advocacy groups on full alert. “The cybersecurity threat is real,” said Leslie Harris, head of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), “but such a drastic federal intervention in private communications technology and networks could harm both security and privacy.”

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