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Bill Allows Obama to Seize Internet in Crisis

August 29, 2009


A U.S. Senate bill that envisions a government seizure of the Internet – literally disconnecting private sector computers from the Web – during a national “cybersecurity crisis” has sparked alarm among civil libertarians and web companies.

The bill, first obtained and reported on by CNET,.says that the president would be able to declare “a cybersecurity emergency” relating to “non-governmental” computer networks and do what’s necessary to respond to the threat.

Other sections of the bill, which is authored by U.S Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, include a federal certification program for “cybersecurity professionals,” and a requirement that certain computer systems and networks in the private sector be managed by people who have been awarded that license.

“I think the redraft, while improved, remains troubling due to its vagueness,” said Larry Clinton, president of the Internet Security Alliance, told CNET. “It is unclear what authority Sen. Rockefeller thinks is necessary over the private sector. Unless this is clarified, we cannot properly analyze, let alone support the bill.”

Rockefeller has declined to comment on the record, but representatives of other large Internet and telecommunications companies expressed concerns after a teleconference briefing with Rockefeller’s aides this week.

A Senate source familiar with the bill told CNET that the president’s power to take control of portions of the Internet is similar to what President Bush did when grounding all aircraft on Sept. 11, 2001. The source said that one primary concern was the electrical grid, and what would happen if it were attacked from a broadband connection.

When Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) introduced the original bill in April, they claimed it was vital to protect national cybersecurity. “We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs–from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records,” Rockefeller said.

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