New Bill Will Give President 'Emergency Control' Over Private Networks

Posted: Aug 28 2009, 12:12pm CDT | by , Updated: Aug 11 2010, 4:00pm CDT , in Technology News


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The federal government doesn't really understand the Internet very well. If that hasn't always been obvious to you, former Senator Ted Stevens' infamous, “series of tubes” comment made it abundantly clear. That said, it can't be denied that our nation's wireless infrastructure represents a crucial facet of our economy, and our culture. It makes sense that the government would want to protect it.

Unfortunately, when you don't really understand how something works, it's difficult to know how to go about keeping it safe. That's why U.S. Senate bill S.773 has so many net neutrality advocates and corporations up in arms. As CNET explains the bill gives the President the power to “declare a cybersecurity emergency” even in regards to “non-governmental” networks. In essence, if the President feels there is a security threat he can exercise power over private, civilian networks.

The bill also includes provisions for the licensing of “cybersecurity professionals”, which is probably a good idea. The government's first priority regarding the Internet should be to hire as many people who understand it as possible. A bunch of septuagenarian senators are never going to have the understanding of modern technology that experts in their twenties, thirties, and forties have.

Unfortunately, the good is tacked right in with the bad in S.773. Right after providing for the certification of professionals, it adds in a provision that could be very dangerous indeed. Essentially, if this passes the government will have the right to regulate private networks and computer systems deemed to be “critical”.

It also calls for “periodic mapping” of important private networks, and requires that the companies running them share requested information with the government. What does that mean exactly? For one thing, it would require your ISP (assuming major ISPs are deemed 'critical') to share consumer information with the government. It also means that companies deemed 'critical' will have to abide by new hiring regulations, as well as other requirements.

If you think this bill is worrisome, send a message to your state senator. While it's clear that the government needs to have some plans in place to deal with cybersecurity threats, I don't believe a bill like this is the proper way to address those threats. Any legislation drafted to protect our Internet infrastructure needs to be drafted by people who actually understand that structure. Otherwise, we could end up with laws that do irrevocable harm to our digital rights.

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