That didn't take long. A compliant US Senate committee has quickly approved the highly controversial proposal that US Presidents (starting with Mr. Obama) be granted the power to "shut down" the Internet for periods of up to FOUR MONTHS without bothering with the democratic nicety of seeking Congressional oversight.
The Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, being championed (if that's the right word) by Senator Joe Lieberman, would give absolute power to the president and the federal government to flick a so-called "kill switch" and terminate the Internet in the event of an unspecified national emergency.
Mr. Obama, and those who will follow him, will be able, without reference to any other agency, to close down networks and block Internet traffic including that generated by countries other than the United States.
The debate on the Act now moves to the floor of the House.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee rapidly passed the bill in advance of a vote on the Senate floor in the face of objections and representations by many privacy, civil rights and technology organisations (including the influential Center for Democracy and Technology) that expressed grave concerns that the proposed legislation could be used to smother the right to free speech enshrined in the US Constitution.
The only sop to this widespread disquiet is that a paragraph has been added to the Bill that would require the federal government to go to the Congress to get approval for any closure of the Internet for more than 120 days.
The rationale behind the Bill is convoluted with some Senators claiming that the proposed legislation is nothing particularly new as the President already has the power, under the Communications Act (some provisions of which date back to 1934) to “cause the closing of any facility or station for wire communication” in the event of a crisis. In that case, it is surely entirely legitimate to ask "why the need for new legislation?"
We know that US politicians don't get irony but what could be more ironic then the fact that Joe Lieberman, interviewed on CNN, cited Communist' China's much criticised Internet control and censorship regime as a model for the US to follow. He said, “Right now China, the government, can disconnect parts of its Internet in case of war and we need to have that here too." Utterly incredible.
Not that there's much mention of this grave threat to democracy in the mainstream US media where the focus is almost exclusively on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
And, while public attention is elsewhere, a Senate committee approves by "voice vote" contentious legislation that will give a president, backed by shadowy agencies, the legal right to kill-off the Internet. We get the message. Voting properly takes up far too much valuable time.
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