Internet Kill Switch

The IT Crowd

An Internet kill switch is the cybercrime and countermeasures concept of activating a single shut off mechanism for all Internet traffic. The theory behind a kill switch is creation of a single point of control for one authority or another to control in order to ‘shut down the internet to protect it’ from unspecified assailants. The prospect of cyberwarfare over the 2000s has prompted the drafting of legislation by US officials, but worldwide the implications of actually of ‘killing’ the Internet has prompted criticism of the idea in the United States.

During the 2010–2011 Middle East and North Africa protests in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya access to the Internet was denied in an effort to limit peer networking to facilitate organization. The Communications Act of 1934 established the United States’ Federal regulation of electronic communications. In this act, created by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration enabled the president powers of control over the media under certain circumstances such as during wartime or a national emergency.

In 2010, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) introduced a bill called ‘Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010,’ which he co-wrote with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE). If signed into law, this controversial bill, which the American media dubbed the ‘kill switch bill,’ would grant the President emergency powers over the Internet. Other parts of the bill focus on the establishment of an Office of Cyberspace Policy and on its missions, as well as on the coordination of cyberspace policy at the federal level. If national security were to be severely threatened by a cyber attack, broadband providers, search engines, software firms, and other major players in the Telecommunications/Computer/Internet industry could be required to immediately comply and implement any emergency measure taken.

The key policy issue is whether or not the United States has the right constitutionally to restrict or cut off access to the Internet. The powers granted to the presidency starting with the Communications Act of 1934 seem to be adequate in dealing with this threat, and is one of the major criticisms of legislation determined to regulate this question. The next most important question is whether or not the United States even need this legislation or it would chip away at individual liberties. The trade offs are apparent-if the government can control information online then it can limit access to information online. One of the biggest problems with the theory is what to classify as Critical Communications Infrastructure and what to leave out.

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