Cyber-Security Bill Worries Privacy Advocates

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WASHINGTON -- Some privacy advocates are alarmed about a Senate bill that appears to give the president emergency control of the Internet in a cyber-security emergency.

In the movie Live Free or Die Hard, an evil computer genius brings much of society to its knees by waging cyber-warfare.

President Barack Obama said early on he wanted to make sure no one could do that to America in real-life.

The Senate agreed and was already preparing a bill that would give the president vast power to deal with cyber-attacks.

But in the minds of privacy advocates like Greg Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology -- it was way too much power.

"It said that the president would have the power to shut down or limit Internet traffic to critical infrastructure systems. That was interpreted, I think correctly, as giving the president too much power over the Internet," Nojeim said.

Another provision said "commerce could seize e-mails, could seize information about telephone calls and use it for cyber-security purposes," Nojeim added.

Criticism of the Senate bill came so fast and furious, the lawmakers offered up some changes.

But it's not change enough to ease all the worries of Nojeim, a former top ACLU official who's fought for privacy rights for years.

"The private sector operates at least 85 percent of the critical infrastructure systems. Can the federal government tell the private sector what to do?  Can it tell the private sector to turn over personal information that people might have in private sector systems?  That's the big question," Nojeim asked.

Cyber-warfare is a definite threat, but guardians of the Internet warn answers to the threat could just present a whole new set of dangers.

*Originally published Sept. 11, 2009 

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.