Kill switch dangerous without oversight

Hansook Oh

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Senate Democrats re-introduced a bill last month that would give power to the president to declare a “cyber emergency” and shut down vital parts of the Internet. The bill does not allow for any judicial review of any such emergency measures.

If we allow our executive branch to be free from judicial oversight, our government will not be very different from the oppressive regime of President Hosni Mubarak that the Egyptian people just fought so hard and sacrificed so many lives to challenge.

The Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010 was first introduced last June by Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The bill’s main purpose is to protect “critical information infrastructure.” According to the USA Patriot Act, this means “systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.”

If passed, it would create a new regulatory body within the government and new layers of bureaucracy, such as the White House Office for Cyberspace Policy and National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications. The senate-approved director of the office would counsel the president on all matters regarding cybersecurity and could also issue emergency measures when critical information is attacked, including Internet blackouts.

The constitutionality or legality of the actions taken by the president or director during a “declared cyber emergency” would be exempt from court examination.

According to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the executive branch agencies and the Congress are attacked through cyberspace an average of 1.8 billion times per month. Former director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell said, “If we went to war today, in a cyber war, we would lose.”

In the Electronic Age, where now even missile systems are organized in cyberspace, safeguarding our information and technology with a senate-sponsored firewall is more than a fair idea.

However, exempting the president and director of the new Office for Cyberspace Policy from judicial review makes this bill more dangerous than any girl who kicked the hornet’s nest.

Our system of checks and balances must be honored in order for our society to be even a fraction of the democracy we claim to be. If the president can declare a national threat and shut down parts of the Internet without any judicial inquiry into his actions, how can we be sure that citizens’ rights will be protected?

Last year the Internet was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize and this year we saw how powerful a tool it can be in eliciting change. For anyone to have the power to take that away and not be held accountable is an unprecedented deterrent to democracy.