Internet Kill Switch Option Actively Debated by Senate

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

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Senators are in a heated debate over the Obama administration's intention to use the Telecommunication Act of 1934 as the basis for empowering the President with the ability to regulate Internet usage in the midst of a national security event.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on May 23 discuss elements of the President's comprehensive cybersecurity strategy that was delivered to Congress two weeks prior.

The proposal is the culmination of over two years of effort by the White House to finish laying the groundwork for the protection of critical infrastructure in the face of increased threats posed by attacks on both public and private sector network systems.

“The administration appears to be relying on potentially sweeping authority in the outmoded Telecommunication Act of 1934. This authority is far broader than the authority in our bill,” said Maine Senator Susan M. Collins.

Collins was referring to the controversial "Internet kill switch" option which has stirred strong sentiments amongst industry factions and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.

“We urgently need to pass strong cybersecurity legislation. If we don’t do something soon, the Internet is going to become a digital Dodge City," said Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, the committee chairman.

Lieberman and Collins both advocate the passage of new legislation that would supersede the 77 year old Telecommunication Act, where matters of Internet security during a time of national crisis are concerned, to provide clear guidelines on executive branch powers to regulate traffic.

“The country would be better off if we did create some new law regarding the authority of the president to act in these emergencies,” said Lieberman.

The U.S government fundamentally already has the technical ability to control access and use of the web with the cooperation of company's who control the Internet's infrastructure.

The debate in the U.S. over legislating an "Internet kill switch" is not one of whether or not to create a mechanism to control Internet access, but one of who will legally exercise the power to limit accessibility and under what circumstances.

“Clearly, if something significant were to happen, the American people would expect us to be able to respond and respond appropriately,” testified Phillip Reitinger, Homeland Security undersecretary.

In January, a report was produced by the London School of Economics and the University of Oxford for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which concluded that the implementation of a federally controlled Internet kill switch to prioritize web resources in the case of a national emergency could have detrimental effects.

"In the very simplest sense the Internet cannot really be switched off because it has no centre. In most emergencies you would want to give priority to doctors, but most doctors and their surgeries use the same downstream Internet facilities as the bulk of the population and there would be no easy way to identify them. Localised Internet switch-off is likely to have significant unwanted consequences," the report noted.

Instead of centralized control mechanisms such as the Internet kill switch proposal, the report recommends efforts be focused on the further development of strategic computer emergency response teams (CERTS) which can better assess situations and affect productive measures to mitigate large scale cyber events.

“Different people have different views about how the government ought to be empowered and what the constraints on the government exercise of authorities ought to be..." Reitinger testified.

Reitinger announced last week he will be leaving the Obama administration effective June 3, 2011. He hopes "there would be further discussions” with Congress “to figure out the right set of mechanisms, if any, that were necessary to move forward.”

Reitinger has been instrumental in the development of national policy regarding the security of the critical information technology infrastructure, government networks and private sector systems.

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david wagner If it is only used in times of national crisis whereas our secret information is in jeopardy and it will target that certain infrastructure to make the assailant lose their connection so they cannot obtain the information i would say it would be a very good tool to defend in cyber-warfare
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