Amid criticism that Senate cyber legislation would authorize the U.S. president to shut off the Internet, a la Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, the bill's original cosponsors on Thursday night announced a replacement proposal that specifies the president shall have no such powers.
The Cybersecurity and Internet Freedom Act, a revised version of a controversial bipartisan package introduced last year, expressly states that "neither the president, the director of the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications, nor any other officer or employee of the federal government should have the authority to shut down the Internet."
"We want to clear the air once and for all," said co-sponsor Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "As someone said recently, the term 'kill switch" has become the 'death panels' of the cybersecurity debate. There is no so-called 'kill switch' in our legislation because the very notion is antithetical to our goal of providing precise and targeted authorities to the president. Furthermore, it is impossible to turn off the Internet in this country. This legislation applies to the most critical infrastructures that Americans rely on in their daily lives - energy transmission, water supply, financial services, for example - to ensure that those assets are protected in case of a potentially crippling cyber attack."
The new bill also addresses another bone of contention among private companies who feared the last year's measure would allow the government to arbitrarily control their networks during emergencies. The rewrite would allow judges to review the government's designations of so-called covered critical infrastructure, or systems that could cause catastrophes if disrupted.
Under both bills, owners of such systems could be forced to take certain actions, such as blocking specific incoming traffic, when faced with a threat -- but not hand over network operations.