Cybersecurity bill clears Senate committee

Internet kill switch blunted a tad

A controversial cybersecurity bill passed a key Senate committee on Thursday after backers made concessions aimed at blunting widespread criticism the measure would give the US president broad authority to shut down key parts of the internet.

The bill, known as the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act (PDF), has been pushed hard by Senator Joe Lieberman, who argues the internet is so crucial to banking, utilities and other infrastructure that attacks on it are key to national defense. It would establish a White House Office for Cyberspace Policy and a National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications, which would work with the private sector to harden critical networks against attacks.

It was passed by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and now moves to the floor.

The bill created a stir when it was introduced earlier this month. Critics charged it gave the president an internet kill switch that was ripe for abuse. On Wednesday, the Center for Democracy and Technology and 23 other groups sent a letter to Lieberman and other backers voicing concerns the bill might stifle free speech during emergencies, information sharing and privacy, among other things.

On Thursday, language was added requiring the president to seek congressional approval to extend emergency measures beyond 120 days. Backers also emphasized that the bill would require any measure to “be the least disruptive means feasible” and couldn't be used to set aside federal wiretap and surveillance restrictions.

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