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US lawmakers eye internet 'kill switch'

Nothing like Egypt, surely

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US lawmakers plan to try once more to equip the president with an internet “kill switch,” a controversial measure that's become even more incendiary following last week's move by Egypt to pull the plug on the global network.

In April, when similar bills circulated on Capitol Hill, industry groups warned they gave the president too much power to disconnect critical infrastructure and didn't include enough oversight. The vague wording of the bills meant the president would in effect be allowed to cause widespread disruptions for a host of reasons. Those bills were eventually tabled.

Fast forward to last week, when the Egyptian government switched off virtually all internet access and mobile phone coverage in an attempt to quell protestors calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country for 30 years. Five days after the draconian outage was put in place, the Egyptian government has only tightened its grip on internet communications.

Senator Susan Collins, one of the sponsors of the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, recently told Wired.com the legislation was a far cry from the powers exercised by Mubarak because it could only be used in times of significant “cyber” emergency.

“My legislation would provide a mechanism for the government to work with the private sector in the event of a true cyber emergency,” Collins told the publication. “It would give our nation the best tools available to swiftly respond to a significant threat.”

The latest public version of the bill, which Collins has said she intends to introduce “soon,” contains language saying the federal government's designation of vital internet or other computer systems “shall not be subject to judicial review,” according to CNET.

Pundits have wasted no time attacking the measure as heavy handed and a serious threat to American liberty. With the internet serving as an important way to communicate and gather news, its disruption during emergencies means the public could lose an important source of information when they need it most.

“The most specious reason for this mechanism is that if some evil worm or attack on the National infrastructure— a.k.a. "Cyberwar" — would be underway, the Internet would need to be shut down to prevent further damage to the country, which apparently can no longer function without the Net,” uber tech columnist John C. Dvorak wrote here. “This is kind of a weird tautology. The country can't function without the Net, so we need to secure it, which includes having the ability to shut it down. But with the Net down, how can the country function?”

Good question. ®

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