Congress Proposes 'Kill Switch' for the Internet

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Some members of the federal government have considered the option of taking control of parts of the Internet. However, others fear it would give the government free rein to limit free speech.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has called it a top priority of this session of Congress.

Labeled cyberspace security, the proposed legislation would allow President Barack Obama to flip a virtual switch, shutting down parts of the Internet in the case of a severe cyber attack or national emergency.

"This is a matter of national security," Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.said.

Lieberman, along with Sens. Tom Carper, D-Dela. and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced the Cybersecurity Freedom Act on Thursday.  It's similar to a bill introduced last year that critics nicknamed the "Kill Switch Bill."

"A cyber attack on America can do as much or more damage today by incapacitating our banks, our communications, our finance, our transportation as a conventional war attack," Lieberman explained.

Supporters say the government needs this power because national infrastructure systems are now tied to the Internet. Yet, some fear the legislation is an attempt by government to get its fingers on the Internet -- giving it the power to limit free speech or silence political communication.

Those fears have gained steam since the Egyptian government shut down Internet service during the recent citizen uprising in an effort to stop communication on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

"The Internet played a huge role in the Egyptian uprising," said CBN News International Correspondent George Thomas. "For example, between January 15 and January 25, close to 5 million Egyptians logged on and created an account on Facebook."

Seton Motley, president of Less Government, said the private sector doesn't need the government's help to fend of cyber attacks.

"The Kill Switch Bill is, 'OK, gee -- in the event of a cyber attack we must have government partner with the private sector to deal with it,'" Motley said. "Well, wait a minute. That first of all assumes that there aren't any cyber attacks going on. There's 100,000 a day. The reason we don't hear about them is because the Internet service providers, all by their lonesome, handle it so expertly and so remotely from our experience that we never hear about them."

Lieberman said critics should "relax and read the bill." He said the president and the government will not take over the Internet.

"Do you ever see a time when government would need to go in and shut down even part of the Internet?" CBN News asked Motley.

"If it's really upside down I want the guys who have been handling it all along who understand the networks, who know how to fend off attacks to deal with it," Motley replied.

Lieberman hasn't said whether he will reintroduce the bill in this Congress. Motley said it's unlikely the new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives would pass it.

As the Cyberspace Freedom Act surfs through Congress, critics say they're counting on the new House Republican leadership to keep it from reaching the president's desk.

--Originally published Feb. 18, 2011.



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CBN News
Jennifer Wishon

Jennifer Wishon

CBN News White House Correspondent

Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at