Thursday, April 16, 2009

Real Life Big Brother

A pair of bills introduced in the U.S. Senate would grant the White House sweeping new powers to access private online data, regulate the cybersecurity industry, and even shut down Internet traffic during a declared "cyber emergency." Senate bills No. 773 and 778, introduced by Senator Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from West Virginia, are both part of what's being called the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, which would create a new Office of the National Cybersecurity Advisor, reportable directly to the President and charged with defending the country from cyber attack. Essentially, the President would have the power to unilaterally turn off the Internet.

A working draft of the legislation by an Internet privacy group also spells out plans to grant the Secretary of Commerce access to all privately owned information networks deemed to be critical to the nation's infrastructure "without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access." Privacy advocates and Internet experts have been quick to sound the alarm over the act's broadly drawn government powers. "The cybersecurity threat is real," says Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, which obtained the draft of S.773, "but such a drastic federal intervention in private communications technology and networks could harm both security and privacy."

My main concern with this bill, aside from the obvious, is its working copy does not define what a cybersecurity emergency is. Apparently, it leaves that question to the discretion of the President, which is a gross over-extension of executive authority. If this bill is signed into law, I will lose all faith in humanity.

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