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Silencing the Internet

A new bill has been making its way through the United States Senate and it is controversial … a true tinderbox issue. It is so “hot,” in fact, that it is causing consternation and anger on both sides of the political aisle. And it’s no wonder …

disconnected

The bill in question, when and if passed, will give President Obama, and all future presidents, as well, the power to shut down the Internet for up to four months, perhaps even longer. Known as the “kill switch,” the bill was recently approved by a key Senate committee and is ready to move to the floor of the Senate where all members will have an opportunity to vote on it … to cast a “yea” or “nay” vote.

It’s called “The Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act” … and it has been inflaming passions since it first saw the light of day and made its way into committee. Senator Joe Lieberman, (I) Connecticut, has been a powerful advocate of the bill which, if it becomes law, will provide the head of the federal government (the President) with absolute power to shut down the Internet and block incoming Internet traffic from specific countries during “national emergencies.”

Clearly, such power in the hands of a single individual (even an American president), can be dangerous and lead to tyranny and/or abuse.  It’s not difficult to imagine how this power, used improperly, could create serious free speech problems in America.

In fact, the Center for Democracy and Technology, acting in concert with 23 other privacy and technology organizations, has written letters to Senator Lieberman and other supporters of the bill to express their concern that the legislation can be an instrument that stifles free speech in America.

The widespread criticism of the bill has had some impact. Its sponsors have added language that would require the federal government to obtain congressional approval in order to extend the shutting down of the Internet beyond 120 days (four months), but, of course, it does nothing to address the initial 120 days.

This means that if no further changes are added to the bill, President Obama will have the power and authority to stop all Internet activity – on a whim or for purely political reasons – without congressional oversight or approval for up to four months.

Senators who are behind this bill rejected opposition claims that it was a “kill switch” that could turn the Internet “dark” although they did not deny that President Obama would have the authority to do just that if the legislation becomes law. These senators made the claim that the power to shut down the Internet already exists under the “Communications Act” so their bill essentially only reinforces an existing presidential power.  This begs the question; if the “Communications Act” already authorizes it, why the need for more legislation?

Is their argument correct? It’s possible. Let’s just say it’s open to personal interpretation. The “Communications Act” actually provides the president with the authority to “cause the closing of any facility or station for wire communication when there is a state or threat of war.”

As I said, the power to shut down the Internet, based on the law I just described, is open to interpretation. The language is broad and leaves itself open to differing opinions as to its true meaning.

Opponents clearly believe that the legislation’s aim is to bring the Internet under the regulatory power of the U.S. government so that it can begin to dismantle free speech. It’s a frightening thought, but it may have some merit. Here’s why …

Senator Lieberman has stated that the idea behind the impending new law was to copy (or mimic) China’s stringent policies of policing and controlling the free flow of information through the use of censorship and coercion. That a U.S. senator would feel comfortable stating publicly that we should copy China, a nation with a notorious track record for civil liberties, is troubling.

Currently, the Chinese government has the power to disconnect parts of the Internet in times of war. The senator from Connecticut wants the American government to have that same power.

While public attention has been focused on the tragic Gulf coast oil spill and other serious problems, Democrats in Congress have been working quietly to lay the groundwork for this bill which will become, in effect, a technological iron curtain that turns over complete control of the Internet to the federal government.

This can open the door to potential governmental tyranny, something one would never have imagined could ever occur in America. But consider the facts. Many suspect that the real agenda driving this bill rests in an unshakeable determination to strangle this rapidly-growing alternative to traditional media because it is not part of the establishment, will not “play ball” with politicians … and will instead expose government misdeeds, cover-ups and cronyism.

In truth, this bill, if passed, can be used by those in power to literally silence anyone who is critical of government or individuals in government. That makes it a potentially very dangerous weapon … a threat to the freedom that Americans have always enjoyed.

The pros and cons of this bill need to be debated openly and honestly — in full view of the American electorate.

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