The Cellar Door: The Government (and the internet)

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By MITCHELL CHAMBERLIN
Columnist

I’m sure most of you have some sort of idea about what has been happening in Egypt for the past couple of months. A popular revolt began to happen in January of this year. By the time this is published, new developments will probably have happened already. This isn’t about those new developments though.

I’m concerned about what Egypt decided to do on Jan 28th. At 12:34 am local time, Egypt’s government decided to shut down the internet in all forms as well as cell phone service. It was a coordinated move to stop a popular usurping of a thirty year old dictatorship.

So, what does this have to do with the United States?

Everything. A bill, called the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, was introduced in the summer of 2010. It was meant to give the government the power to turn off key pieces of cyber infrastructure in case essential information, economic, or financial networks were being attacked. The government already has the right to do this through the Federal Communication Commission. This bill would solidify that right. Generally, I would agree that the government has the right to do this because one of the main purposes of the government is to protect its people.

What bothers me are the changes that were made by a Senate committee to the bill. In the finalized draft, which will be revisited by congress in the coming months, the government would be granted the right to turn off the internet without being subject to judicial review. In other words, the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, would have the ability to simply turn off the internet and not tell anyone why.

If an internet provider disagrees with the President and would like the right to turn the internet back on: too bad. If a school is dependent on the internet to teach its children: too bad. If a team of scientists needs to send information across the world to save the life of a little girl with a rare form of cancer: too bad. If this bill passes, the President would have no accountability and no legal liability to tell anyone why he or she is turning off the internet; nor would he or she be subject to any legal process if acting foolishly or selfishly. Does this worry anyone else?