US Senator proposes a 'kill switch' for the Internet in new bill

As governments all over the world begin to adapt to a new era of national security, where cyberwar is as real as bombing runs and whole bureaucracies are formed and dissolved around the digital battlefield, one US senator wants to protect the digital populace in a way not many will take kindly to, according to InfoWorld. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), in a proposed bill called the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010, lays out in 196 pages his plans to give the government the right to order ISPs to cut off service in a national emergency and make them pay heavy fines if they refuse to comply. The bill also sets up a sub-bureaucracy under the Department of Homeland Security called the National Center for Communications and Cybersecurity (NCCC). Sen. Lieberman explained that other countries have been enacting legislative systems that allow for such a 'kill switch'. "Right now China, its government, can disconnect parts of its Internet in case of war, and we need to have that here, too." 

Image credit: UberGizmo

This wouldn't be the first time legislation like this was presented to the legislative bodies of the US government. The Cybersecurity Act of 2009, proposed by representatives Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Jay Rockafeller (D-W. Va.), suggested that the government enforce the existence of backdoors in the Internet's infrastructure that allowed for emergency shut off. Snowe, in a press conference, said "We cannot afford to wait for a cyber 9/11 before our government realizes the importance of protecting our cyber resources." That proposal was sidetracked due to president Obama's push for health care reform, but Sen. Lieberman seems to be picking up where Snowe and Rockafeller left off.

Needless to say, this is a very controversial idea. Bill Snyder, writing for InfoWorld, is worried about free speech issues that arise from such a directive.

"As I said, I'm not a believer in conspiracies, and as much as I dislike this bill, I don't think that Lieberman and his co-sponsors are gearing up for some sort of dictatorship. But, there's no telling what the political landscape will look like in the future. In an age where the Internet has become one of the most important means of political expression, giving the government the power to shut it down is giving it the power to stifle free speech and dissent."

The last time a nation used executive powers to shut down Internet connections was during the Iranian Presidential Elections of 2009. It ultimately failed and the dissent among the progressive population there was defined by Internet services like Twitter and Facebook.

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

Windows Live Essentials beta available now

Next Story

iPhone 4 reception issues caused by left-handed use?


View more comments

sweetsam said,
The day China in its current state becomes an example for US to emulate you can assume one thing. The US is screwed.

Yep. I guess that's what happens when you elect a communist...

M_Lyons10 said,

Yep. I guess that's what happens when you elect a communist...

Lieberman, who's about as hawkish as your average Republican, if not more so, felt empowered to author this bill because Obama got elected? What's next, Bin Laden surrenders because the US found minerals in Afghanistan?

You must have an interesting relationship with logic.

M_Lyons10 said,
How very scary. Though somehow I'm not surprised that this administration would be all for something like this...

Seriously, You are trying way too hard. Three comments, stating the same nonsense.

This is neither supported by nor does it have anything to do with the current administration. You know it too....smh. some people.

What a load of crap. If he wants to protect our "national resources", then put them on a master switch, not the internet itself.

To me, having a kill switch which could immediately disconnect all sensitive GOVERNMENT systems from the internet in the event of a cyber attack makes perfect sense. A kill switch which would shut down the internet itself is lunacy.

Wasn't the internet developed for national security? So that communication can't be cut off very easily... at least thats what I once heard. Makes no sense that they would want a "kill switch" for "security".

Why does not the U.S. & China join forces in total control of the WWW? If America could not stop Sept. 11 how do they think that they can stop a cyber attack?

belto said,
Why does not the U.S. & China join forces in total control of the WWW? If America could not stop Sept. 11 how do they think that they can stop a cyber attack?

If they kill the internet, there won't be anything to attack, no?
Sounds almost like having a button that submerges the trade center underground so airplanes can't crash into it.... or better yet, teleports it to the moon for a couple of minutes.

Anyway, let's hope that this insanity doesn't come to pass. Otherwise, what would be next? Censoring the Internet?

As with everything else the idiots in congress do, it won't bother them. The kill switch will only be for websites that disagree with them. I'll bet 100 dollars this is just a way to justify killing certain websites, akin to the (so called) "fairness doctrine".

The internet, in its current state, does not support a kill switch for the entire system. The only place where a kill switch would work, are at the places where the pipes leave and enter the country. Apart from those places, you can't switch off the internet.

Quite franky, if a kill switch was implemented at the "digital borders" of the USA, and it was used, you can be sure that international companies would move their infrastructure somewhere else, like the EU. Companies could loose millions of pounds/dollars/euros ever hour for lost connectivity.

Infact, the EU is actually quite a good place to put servers, as you get to serve 27 countries all at once (regarding import/export/trade laws).

Seriously, if a cyber attack was to happen that requires this kind of action, then get Jack Bauer.. He doesn't need to search the internet to find those responsible, he would just stare a computer down until it gives him the information he needs.

what if the cyber attack is from within the country? if you kill at the digital border you still have a working "LAN". That could render some damage.

or i'm wrong?

They should have a "kill switch" for politicians as well. When they say, or do, something stupid than flip the switch.........

I bet these politicians voting on this bill don't even know what runs off the Internet and what could go wrong... and what it could effect... Medical records are going digital someone comes into an ER with something wrong and the internet is down noone can get there records if they have never been to that hospital before. so if they are not conscious and need treatment how can the doctor know if the shot he is going to give him might be a deadly allergic reaction. or about other health issues he might have that the doctor needs to know about. banks who are transferring money... is it possible to lose money in digital limbo if the net shut down in the middle? I'm sure there are alot of things if u sit and think about it.

Why I disagree with this on a more serious note is because people have to understand that the Internet is essentially the new mass media. Shutting it off in whatever can be classed a "national emergency" hinders free speech and communication in my opinion, and it's no better than Pakistan, China, Iran and the likes trying to censor the Internet based on their law.

I simply see no reason for the country to be disconnected from the Internet for any reason. Do they think that cyberwarfare = physical bombing of servers unless they're taken down or something? And what do they mean by it? Why does it constitute restricting the entire population from Internet access?

And from the article, "Right now China, its government, can disconnect parts of its Internet in case of war, and we need to have that here, too.": Yeah, China also has child labor, a horrible growth/pollution problem, and a more totalitarian government. Perhaps we need those things too.

This here is a proper example of a politician presenting an idea before consulting a technical expert. A "kill switch" for the internet, I haven't laughed this hard in weeks.

The other thing that is funny to me... is the purpose of most cyber attacks is to damage / compromise network resources. Thus, if a cyber attack caused the Government to utilize this kill switch... for all intents and purposes the attackers were successful because they achieved their end - complete paralysis of the nation's economy and infrastructure as a result of loss of network connectivity.

Isn't it basically impossible to "shut down" the internet? Network admins who have any experience will quickly figure out how to hook up computers to each other that need to communicate. Then, let's connect to the Walmart computers because they are our number one customer...oh look! The internet is back, just it doesn't run through AT&T!

there is kill switch ... it's called knife ...
just cut the in-out links the most important datacenters ...

anyway how You want to block communication in todays world of wireless networks in so broad range of frequencies or even satelitte communication ...

wanna be secure ? stay offline or use hardened nix

Commenting is disabled on this article.