Proposed cybersecurity bill: stop calling it a “Kill Switch”

Written by

Unless I am mistaken – and not being a lawyer, this is a distinct possibility – but the cybersecurity bill proposed in the senate earlier this month does nothing to create a so-called “kill switch” for the internet, one that would allow the president to disable the entire internet during a cybersecurity incident.

After reading the proposed bill, it is my understanding that it provides the president with limited powers to temporarily take certain portions of the internet offline, especially with respect to critical infrastructure. It allows the president to take immediate action to mitigate a cyber attack, but does not permit the office to infinitely disable the web without the consent of Congress. Don’t take my word for it, read this section of the bill yourself and draw your own conclusions.

The powers provided by this proposed bill mirror those of the War Powers Act. The president is at liberty to send troops to any location at any time, but an official declaration of war requires confirmation by Congress. Likewise with the legislation proposed by Senator Lieberman, in the so-called “Kill Switch” bill, the president’s ability to shut down portions of the internet would be limited, and subject to congressional approval for a duration longer than 30 days.

With all of the uproar about this proposal, it makes me wonder why opponents have decided to hone in on just one small portion of the cybersecurity bill. Sure, it’s a significant development, but branding it the “kill switch” bill undermines other components of the legislation that merit careful consideration. It smacks of an intentionally misleading label, much like calling the estate tax a “death tax”.

It’s as if the pundits and naysayers feel this power to shut down internet access in the event of a cyber attack will be exercised without contemplating the consequences. It begs the question of what president would be callous enough to shut down portions of the internet unless the move were absolutely necessary? Think of the commercial ramifications of such an action, and weigh this against the politician’s ego. Having worked with some in the past, I believe it will come as no surprise that politicians constantly worry about two things: re-election and their legacy.

Senator Lieberman, however, needs to give up his current line of defense for this expansion of presidential power. He told CNN’s Candy Crowley this past weekend that China has the ability to take portions of its internet offline in case of a cyberattack. While I believe that providing the president with such an emergency power may be prudent, I would ask the good senator from Connecticut to refrain from providing examples emanating from the government that promoted the Cultural Revolution, put down protesters in Tiananmen, and continues to stifle free speech in its many forms whenever it runs contrary to party policy. If the bill has any chance to pass Congress, then it’s time for more effective points to be articulated on its behalf.

Perhaps Lieberman forgot that sage-like advice that many of our parents doled out when we were younger: If all your friends jumped off a bridge, does that mean you would do the same?

What’s hot on Infosecurity Magazine?