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Senate panel passes Cybersecurity Act with revised "kill switch" language

March 29, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Last April, Sen. Jay Rockefeller [D, WV] (pictured at right), the Chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, introduced the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 to his committee. The goal of the bill was to develop a public-private plan for strengthening national security in the case of internet-based attacks. But it stalled almost immediately because of a controversial provision that would have give the President unilateral authority to declare a cybersecurity emergency and then shut down or limit access to parts of the internet without any oversight or explanation.

A couple weeks ago, Sen. Rockefeller partnered with Sen. Olympia Snowe [R, ME] to introduce a major revision to the bill that, among other things, made changes the emergency “kill switch” provision. The revision was adopted by the committee last Thursday and the bill was approved. It’s now ready for consideration by the full Senate.

The revised bill would require the President to develop an “emergency response an restoration” plan with the help of private industry and other government agencies, but it is vague enough that it does not actually limit what the plan can include. The President would still have authority to declare an emergency and implement the plan without first seeking congressional approval, though he would have to report to Congress within 48 hours after declaring an emergency. The revised bill also doesn’t require the plan to be made public, so it could potentially give the President the same authority to restrict internet access as the original bill did, just without being explicitly and publicly stated in the legislation itself.

Below is the revised text of the section as passed by the committee — it only exists in .PDF right now, hence the screenshots:

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  • ryandsmith 03/29/2010 10:47am

    This bill clearly carries with the intent to limit internet access to the American people. If this bill goes though the president will have the power to shut off the internet at his will. It also seems that only the president can restore access to the internet. The Congress would be powerless to stop the president from taking such action. This allows the president to do something outside of the rule of checks and balances.
    All the president has to do is declare an emergency, shut off the internet, and only tell Congress what he has done. That is a power given to a dictator not a president in a free nation. If the Senate is forced to approve this it will have to be done by a voice vote because any senator goes on record voting yes for this bill will be seen as an enemy of freedom.

  • jdkleckner1989 03/29/2010 2:09pm
    Link Reply
    + -2

    Has anybody ever heard of china? This has too many open ends

  • LucasFoxx 03/29/2010 3:20pm

    Thanks for the PDF! I’ll have to see what all they’ve changed.

    I don’t see what the big deal is though. Most of this is simply requiring the government to study an issue of national security that has been ignored too long, and develop a national security strategy. This isn’t the strategy; it’s the plan to develop a plan. As for the “killing the internet” or “restricting bandwidth” arguments, I don’t see that here, yet. This bill clearly limits the President’s authority in a Cybersecurity emergency to “Internet traffic to and from any compromised Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information system or network”; and “the disconnection of any Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information systems or networks in the interest of national security.“ That’s it. The rest is research.

  • LucasFoxx 03/29/2010 3:24pm

    Ha~! I see everythng I quoted has been retracted. Never mind.

  • LucasFoxx 03/29/2010 3:31pm

    In the PDF, everything is scratched and it’s rewritten begnning on page 51/

  • LucasFoxx 03/29/2010 4:00pm

    Yep. All of the immediate “authority” language is gone, other than he authority to declare a national state of emergency, under conditions that won’t be formalized for at least a year, 2 years before implementation. They did flesh out some more specifics on public participation, security areas of concern, “Best Practices” (read “Sarbanes Oxley), and education and awareness.

  • nmeagent 03/29/2010 5:57pm

    Exactly where does Congress or the President derive the authority to regulate any of this?

  • BenjaWiz 03/30/2010 6:31pm

    I wonder myself as this could be a threat to creativity and or innovation.

  • Comm_reply
    LucasFoxx 03/30/2010 7:10pm

    You’ll have plenty of time. This is just a plan for taking a high level look at the landscape and identifying what the issues are. They are to bring their findings back to congress one year from passage.

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