A new Senate bill, sponsored by Senator Joseph Lieberman, proposes to give the president the authority "to seize control of or even shut down portions of the Internet," according to CNET.
The authority granted to the government in the bill, known as the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act (PCNAA), has been likened to an Internet "kill switch."
The bill would require that private companies--such as "broadband providers, search engines, or software firms," CNET explains--"immediately comply with any emergency measure or action" put in place by the Department of Homeland Security, or else face fines.
It would also see the creation of a new agency within the Department of Homeland Security, the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC). Any private company reliant on "the Internet, the telephone system, or any other component of the U.S. 'information infrastructure'" would be "subject to command" by the NCCC, and some would be required to engage in "information sharing" with the agency, says CBS4.
Numerous groups, such as TechAmerica, have criticized the bill, warning of the "potential for absolute power" and expressing reservations about the "unintended consequences that would result from the legislation's regulatory approach."
Liberman recently defended the PCNAA, arguing that it was imperative the president had the ability to "say to an electric company or to say to Verizon, in the national interest, 'There's an attack about to come, and I hereby order you to put a patch on this, or put your network down on this part, or stop accepting any incoming from country A.'"
He added that the bill is necessary for it would reduce the liability of companies that may need to resort to extreme measures in an emergency situation. Companies might have to "do things in a normal business sense you'd be hesitant to do but national security requires you to do," Lieberman explained, adding "We protect them from that because the action the government is ordering them to take is in national security or economic interest."
CNET notes an Internet "kill switch" has been proposed before:
A draft Senate proposal that CNET obtained in August allowed the White House to "declare a cybersecurity emergency," and another from Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) would have explicitly given the government the power to "order the disconnection" of certain networks or Web sites.
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