Internet Kill Switch Debate Still Very Alive

Wednesday, November 17, 2010



Debate surrounding proposals that would allow the US government to commandeer the Internet  in the case of a national emergency continues to rage, with no shortage of supporters and detractors.

The primary question is whether or not the President can order a prioritization of Internet bandwidth usage in the event of a national security event, such as a terrorist attack, natural disaster, military conflict, epimemic or large scale cyber assault.

The purpose of the proposed power to limit non-essential use of the Internet during a crisis is to guarantee bandwidth is available to support critical infrastructure, government communications, and first responders.

Some critics have asserted that broad based powers allotted to the Executive Branch may be abused if used to stifle dissent, and have concerns over exactly what could be deemed a national emergency.

Others have taken a more practical approach, insisting that if such a capability were created, it could then be exploited by a foe, and thus create a threat to the very operations the kill-switch is meant to preserve.

SANS Institute research director Alan Paller insists the proposed kill-switch is nothing out of the ordinary, and that the White House has had the power to regulate communications in the event of an emergency since passage of the Telecommunications Act in 1934:

"The Lieberman-Collins bill just authorizes standard filtering like that done by Internet service providers every day, but in a nationally-coordinated fashion. The only kill switch appears to be in Section 706 of the Communications Act of 1934 that already gives the President the power in a time of national security emergency to shut down or disrupt network traffic."

Regardless of the outcome of the proposed legislation, people should reasonably expect that in the case of a national emergency, Internet access will be marginal at best, and business continuity plans that rely heavily on the notion that employees will be able to login and access corporate networks from home are severely flawed.


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