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Bill would give president emergency control of Internet

Posted by on Aug. 28, 2009 at 5:14 PM
  • 38 Replies
August 28, 2009 12:34 AM PDT

Bill would give president emergency control of Internet

Internet companies and civil liberties groups were alarmed this spring when a U.S. Senate bill proposed handing the White House the power to disconnect private-sector computers from the Internet.

They're not much happier about a revised version that aides to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, have spent months drafting behind closed doors. CNET News has obtained a copy of the 55-page draft of S.773 (excerpt), which still appears to permit the president to seize temporary control of private-sector networks during a so-called cybersecurity emergency.

The new version would allow the president to "declare a cybersecurity emergency" relating to "non-governmental" computer networks and do what's necessary to respond to the threat. Other sections of the proposal include a federal certification program for "cybersecurity professionals," and a requirement that certain computer systems and networks in the private sector be managed by people who have been awarded that license.

"I think the redraft, while improved, remains troubling due to its vagueness," said Larry Clinton, president of the Internet Security Alliance, which counts representatives of Verizon, Verisign, Nortel, and Carnegie Mellon University on its board. "It is unclear what authority Sen. Rockefeller thinks is necessary over the private sector. Unless this is clarified, we cannot properly analyze, let alone support the bill."

Representatives of other large Internet and telecommunications companies expressed concerns about the bill in a teleconference with Rockefeller's aides this week, but were not immediately available for interviews on Thursday.

A spokesman for Rockefeller also declined to comment on the record Thursday, saying that many people were unavailable because of the summer recess. A Senate source familiar with the bill compared the president's power to take control of portions of the Internet to what President Bush did when grounding all aircraft on Sept. 11, 2001. The source said that one primary concern was the electrical grid, and what would happen if it were attacked from a broadband connection.

When Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) introduced the original bill in April, they claimed it was vital to protect national cybersecurity. "We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs--from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records," Rockefeller said.

The Rockefeller proposal plays out against a broader concern in Washington, D.C., about the government's role in cybersecurity. In May, President Obama acknowledged that the government is "not as prepared" as it should be to respond to disruptions and announced that a new cybersecurity coordinator position would be created inside the White House staff. Three months later, that post remains empty, one top cybersecurity aide has quit, and some wags have begun to wonder why a government that receives failing marks on cybersecurity should be trusted to instruct the private sector what to do.

Rockefeller's revised legislation seeks to reshuffle the way the federal government addresses the topic. It requires a "cybersecurity workforce plan" from every federal agency, a "dashboard" pilot project, measurements of hiring effectiveness, and the implementation of a "comprehensive national cybersecurity strategy" in six months--even though its mandatory legal review will take a year to complete.

The privacy implications of sweeping changes implemented before the legal review is finished worry Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. "As soon as you're saying that the federal government is going to be exercising this kind of power over private networks, it's going to be a really big issue," he says.

Probably the most controversial language begins in Section 201, which permits the president to "direct the national response to the cyber threat" if necessary for "the national defense and security." The White House is supposed to engage in "periodic mapping" of private networks deemed to be critical, and those companies "shall share" requested information with the federal government. ("Cyber" is defined as anything having to do with the Internet, telecommunications, computers, or computer networks.)

"The language has changed but it doesn't contain any real additional limits," EFF's Tien says. "It simply switches the more direct and obvious language they had originally to the more ambiguous (version)...The designation of what is a critical infrastructure system or network as far as I can tell has no specific process. There's no provision for any administrative process or review. That's where the problems seem to start. And then you have the amorphous powers that go along with it."

Translation: If your company is deemed "critical," a new set of regulations kick in involving who you can hire, what information you must disclose, and when the government would exercise control over your computers or network.

The Internet Security Alliance's Clinton adds that his group is "supportive of increased federal involvement to enhance cyber security, but we believe that the wrong approach, as embodied in this bill as introduced, will be counterproductive both from an national economic and national secuity perspective."

Declan McCullagh is a contributor to CNET News and a correspondent for CBSNews.com who has covered the intersection of politics and technology for over a decade. Declan writes a regular feature called Taking Liberties, focused on individual and economic rights; you can bookmark his CBS News Taking Liberties site, or subscribe to the RSS feed. You can e-mail Declan at declan@cbsnews.com.
by on Aug. 28, 2009 at 5:14 PM
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Replies (1-10):
Della529
by on Aug. 28, 2009 at 5:26 PM

I generally don't trust anything that comes from a Rockefeller.  However, I'm going to read the bill in it's entirety before I comment. 

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?c111:1:./temp/~c111Kmhmi3:e3334 

This idea is worrisome to a degree (guess I better get my tin-foil hat, LOL):

Quote:

"We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs--from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records," Rockefeller said.


 

Eilish
by on Aug. 28, 2009 at 5:30 PM

This reminds me of the reasons for implementing the Patriot Act.

Quoting Della529:

I generally don't trust anything that comes from a Rockefeller.  However, I'm going to read the bill in it's entirety before I comment. 

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?c111:1:./temp/~c111Kmhmi3:e3334 

This idea is worrisome to a degree (guess I better get my tin-foil hat, LOL):

Quote:

"We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs--from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records," Rockefeller said.



showmeborn
by Member on Aug. 28, 2009 at 6:02 PM

What the hell? Are we going to lose all our freedom? It's bad enough that the government can look in on your internet activity, now they want the right to block us out of it when they see fit? Does anyone think there is something very wrong with this picture? Does this scare anyone else?embarrassed

stormcris
by Christy on Aug. 28, 2009 at 6:08 PM

If I am reading this correctly and I may not be, does this not give them control of all critical infrastructure?

itsmesteph11
by on Aug. 28, 2009 at 6:08 PM

 This kind of bill would have to be snuck into some other bill to get it passed but i wouldn't put it past them.

What I am most worried about is why does Obama think he needs this power. I thought everything was supposed to hunky dory when he became President and apologised and made nice with all our enemies.    You think he knows what he is doing will lead to more anger and confidence from those who might seek to harm Americans?    Some thought the patriot act was wrong... this is worse than that anyday. It would just be another freedom down the drain.  

From time to time, we have been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden."


Ronald Reagan

Della529
by on Aug. 28, 2009 at 6:38 PM


Quoting itsmesteph11:

 This kind of bill would have to be snuck into some other bill to get it passed but i wouldn't put it past them.

What I am most worried about is why does Obama think he needs this power. I thought everything was supposed to hunky dory when he became President and apologised and made nice with all our enemies.    You think he knows what he is doing will lead to more anger and confidence from those who might seek to harm Americans?    Some thought the patriot act was wrong... this is worse than that anyday. It would just be another freedom down the drain.  

These bills are not always at the direction of the president.  From your comments, I take it you agree with the Patriot Act, correct?

If I could ever wish and recieve one thing here in the Cafe, it would be that we could try to make a determination based on the wording of the bill instead of "news" articles or blog comments.  It's wonderful that we can start a discussion based on an article, but it isn't necessarily empowering when we are manipulated by said article.

jaxTheMom
by on Aug. 28, 2009 at 6:43 PM

I'll have to read it, too.

And for the record, anybody with the know-how can monitor your internet activity, and even shut you down.

There are already governmental agencies that monitor these types of things, but they aren't looking for you & I.  I interviewed with one contractor that does just that - didn't get the job, which bummed me out as it sounded absolutely fascinating.

anyhoo, will have to read the bill. 

Eilish
by on Aug. 28, 2009 at 6:45 PM


Quoting jaxTheMom:

I'll have to read it, too.

And for the record, anybody with the know-how can monitor your internet activity, and even shut you down.

There are already governmental agencies that monitor these types of things, but they aren't looking for you & I.  I interviewed with one contractor that does just that - didn't get the job, which bummed me out as it sounded absolutely fascinating.

anyhoo, will have to read the bill.

What makes you so sure?

Della529
by on Aug. 28, 2009 at 6:50 PM

I thought it was interesting how he threw "banking" in between electricity and traffic lights.  I can understand protecting America from those who might perpetrate harm, but who's going to protect us from those like the Rockefellers or the Rothschild's?

Eilish, I understand some of your reasoning for being against government control, however, at the same time, I don't believe the president is truly in charge of everything.  To me, the president has simply become a puppet for others (there I go again with my tin-foil hat).

Quoting Eilish:

This reminds me of the reasons for implementing the Patriot Act.

Quoting Della529:

I generally don't trust anything that comes from a Rockefeller.  However, I'm going to read the bill in it's entirety before I comment. 

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?c111:1:./temp/~c111Kmhmi3:e3334 

This idea is worrisome to a degree (guess I better get my tin-foil hat, LOL):

Quote:

"We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs--from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records," Rockefeller said.

 



Eilish
by on Aug. 28, 2009 at 6:52 PM

I believe that as well. But in the process, the President is obtaining more and more power. No matter how you slice it, government is gaining a grip of power they simply should not have. All the way from local police up to the office of the President.

Quoting Della529:

I thought it was interesting how he threw "banking" in between electricity and traffic lights.  I can understand protecting America from those who might perpetrate harm, but who's going to protect us from those like the Rockefellers or the Rothschild's?

Eilish, I understand some of your reasoning for being against government control, however, at the same time, I don't believe the president is truly in charge of everything.  To me, the president has simply become a puppet for others (there I go again with my tin-foil hat).

Quoting Eilish:

This reminds me of the reasons for implementing the Patriot Act.

Quoting Della529:

I generally don't trust anything that comes from a Rockefeller.  However, I'm going to read the bill in it's entirety before I comment. 

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?c111:1:./temp/~c111Kmhmi3:e3334 

This idea is worrisome to a degree (guess I better get my tin-foil hat, LOL):

Quote:

"We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs--from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records," Rockefeller said.





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