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article imageOp-Ed: Joe Lieberman’s law to shut down the Internet

By Paul Wallis     Jun 20, 2010 in Internet
Washington - According to Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Internet is a ‘US national asset’, and the US should have the power to shut it down on the basis of a ‘cyber 911'. Civil libertarians are furious.
The new bill is intended to give the US President the power to do just that. This power is intended to give CYBERCOM, the new US military cyber watchdog, the capabilities to defend the US against cyber attacks. CYBERCOM is also currently in the process of setting itself up.
These are very sweeping legislative powers, and international unease is already surfacing.
From The Sydney Morning Herald:
Lieberman argued the bill was necessary to "preserve those networks and assets and our country and protect our people".
He said that, for all its allure, the internet could also be a "dangerous place with electronic pipelines that run directly into everything from our personal bank accounts to key infrastructure to government and industrial secrets".
Lieberman’s political position as an independent/ nominal Republican further confuses the issue in terms of its origins. He’s chair of the Homeland Security Commission, but that’s not a given power to make policy for a Democrat administration.
These powers are intended to operate as emergency powers. According to ZDNET, this isn’t the first time this sort of legislation has been proposed, with bipartisan support, and that bipartisan support exists for the new bill.
Criticism has been instant:
1. A major shutdown would seriously disrupt the world.
2. The rest of the world has a lot invested in its internet infrastructure, which was originally based on global phone lines, and has since evolved to work through other media. The internet may be a US idea originally, but the modern net is not US property.
3. There are a lot of core internet functions based in the US, based on demography. Arguably, that’s a weakness of itself. While the US has undeniably been the subject of constant cyber attack, being the place where all the targets are hasn’t helped.
4. The threats cited are nothing new. Cyber spies, cyber crime etc. are like a weather report.
5. Cyber attacks have escalated, but that’s in line with internet growth.
6. It’s not like other countries aren’t receiving attacks.
7. Nobody denies the US has a right to defend itself, or that the Internet was originally a US concept. But the world has changed. This is a global problem, and overall consensus is that it should have a global solution, with consultation, not a Cold War nuclear strike methodology.
The problem is that the issue is now open to grandstand plays and overreactions. Politically, this legislation may provide transparency and some level of open handedness in theory, but in practice, it is universally seen as a threat. Also strange is the fact that the US President does have wide emergency powers, including communications, and it'd be hard to argue that a Presidential order for any cyber security measures, during a real emergency, was invalid. The Lieberman bill can be considered clumsy, in this respect, flat-footed in several regards.
Diplomatically, it's likely to be a very mixed blessing, given the rhetoric from around the world in the last decade about internet rights. For nearly 20 years, communications have also been seen as the next battlefield of a real war. The problem is that there's only one way to test this bill's effectiveness in an emergency, and the possibility of other nations taking hostile positions online won't be reduced, but perhaps accelerated by this approach.
The subject of retaliation so far hasn't been mentioned. A cyber Cold War could be triggered by the US taking a position seen as hostile to other nations. Given the fact that nobody seems to mind using US policy as an excuse for their own repressive actions, this bill may be the start of a whole new era in history, even if it doesn't pass.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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