“Under the Executive Order,” writes EPIC, “the White House has also granted the Department [of Homeland Security – DHS] the authority to seize private facilities when necessary, effectively shutting down or limiting civilian communications.”
The stated purpose of the executive order is to ensure that the government has a “resilient, enduring, and effective communications” capability during times of crisis. “Such communications,” states the order, “must be possible under all circumstances to ensure national security, effectively manage emergencies, and improve national resilience.”
However, it is the means by which this capability can be ensured, and some of the powers conferred on the DHS, that worries libertarians. It is feared that the generalized wording of some of these powers actually disguises extensive capabilities. For example, section 5.2 states, “The Secretary of Homeland Security shall: (a) oversee the development, testing, implementation, and sustainment of NS/EP communications, including... non-military communications networks...”
On this basis it would be possible for the DHS to take control of, and shut down non-military communications (such as the internet) if it was deemed necessary in order to sustain national security/emergency preparedness (NS/EP) communications. EPIC notes that in 2011 Congress discussed similar proposals, but that, “Following public protest, congress abandoned the proposal.”
An executive order does not require congressional approval. Unless withdrawn or amended, it will automatically become law 30 days after being published in the Federal Register. It was published in the Federal Register on 7 July.