Obama's 'emergency' powers over Internet: Cybersecurity Bill S. 773

It's proposed that the White House should have emergency powers to control the Internet. A bill would give Barack Obama 'cybersecurity' authority to disconnect users and professionally certify IT people. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers get really spun up about it.

By Richi Jennings. August 29, 2009.

Your humble blogwatcher has selected these bloggy morsels for your enjoyment. Not to mention boycotting Scotland...

Declan McCullagh takes liberties:

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. ... CBSNews.com has obtained a copy.


The new version allows 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.

Paul Boutin adds:

Senator John Davidson “Jay” Rockefeller IV — the Democratic great-grandson of oil mogul John D. Rockefeller — has been said to be working for months on ... S. 773, a bill whose stated goal is “to ensure the continued free flow of commerce within the United States and with its global trading partners through secure cyber communications, to provide for the continued development and exploitation of the Internet and intranet communications for such purposes, to provide for the development of a cadre of information technology specialists to improve and maintain effective cybersecurity defenses against disruption.”

  Translation: It means the White House can order companies to disclose information, and possibly take control of their networks and computers, if the President declares them “critical” to an emergency involving the Internet.

Michael Masnick scratches his head:

The bigger issue is why the government should be taking control over private networks. This is the same gov't that doesn't let people in the State Department use Firefox and which thinks that RealPlayer is the state of the art in online video streaming. Even if there were a "cybersecurity emergency," I would think the last people I'd want to take charge would be the federal government.

David Risley ponders trust:

Some would argue that this is about protecting infrastructure. But, do you trust the government with authority over private networks? Remember, this is the same government who consistently gets failing grades on cybersecurity. Not only that, who defines what this “emergency” is? And what constitutes a “critical network”?


All it would take is some event that the administration declares an “emergency”, they could then stir up public fears, and begin quickly taking new authorities in the name of the public security.

But Xeni Jardin mocks the alert:

Well, this little viral number didn't take long to become the stuff of screaming Drudge sirens. The analogy the bill's authors use is that of the president's power to order all aircraft to land in the event of a systemwide emergency. That power is -- powerful! -- but we're generally OK with it. The Internet, of course, is different, in kind and expanse.


Maybe the White House should have this power in extreme emergencies, but it had better be clear about what those emergencies entail, and it had better accept accountability if it oversteps its authority. There is, aside from the obvious definitional issues, an inherent trade-off in codifying this power, and it's going to be tough to find a balance that satisfies everyone.

And Nicholas Deleon offers some balance:

If we can trust the president to declare federal states of emergency—think hurricanes and the like—why can’t we trust him with the ability to declare a “cyber” state of emergency? ... And then the government will make you eat fruits and vegetables! Tyranny!


Remember: it’s just a bill, and one that has already been revised in the past few months. Don’t be surprised if nothing at all comes from all of this. ... The point is, freaking out at the drop of a hat cannot be healthy.

So what's your take?

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Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 24 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him as @richi on Twitter or richij on FriendFeed, pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use good old email: itblogwatch@richij.com.

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