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No Internet Kill Switch Perhaps, But Internet Buzzkill To Be Sure

S. 3480 Is Specific Legislation that Will Prove to be a General Menace

Proposed legislation by Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins may not yet encompass an "Internet kill switch," but does inject a large amount of buzzkill into prospects of the Internet remaining an interference-free zone from the U.S. federal government.

This effort reminds me of a marvelous scene in the 1969 movie, Midnight Cowboy, in which the Dustin Hoffman character, "Ratso" Rizzo, starving, starts filling his pockets with food from a lavish buffet at a party that he's crashed.

A young woman tells him, "You don't have to steal the food. It's free," to which he responds, "Well, if it's free, then I'm not stealing it!"

The reality was that Ratso, or Rico as he preferred to be called, was stealing the food.

So goes the renewed efforts by Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins, with what I assume is the tacit approval of the Obama Administration, to introduce a cybersecurity bill that has been widely tagged as "the Internet kill switch bill."

This terminology is inaccurate, as the powers granted to the President by this proposed legislation are specific in nature, and don't grant the power to disable all Internet connectivity in the US.

A mouthpiece for the Senate committee involved with this bill (currently known as S. 3480) has been quoted as saying "we're not trying to mandate any requirements for the entire Internet...but only to assert governmental control over those "crucial components that form our nation's critical infrastructure."

Where's the Logic?
But why bother with granting new, specific powers? The President, you see, already has general powers to shut down "any (communications) station or facility" under the Communications Act of 1934. So why does he need additional, specific powers to create a list of websites that he can shut down after declaring certain types of emergency?

The thinking seems to run like this:

Smart people: You don't need control over the Internet, because you already have it.

Dumb senators: Well, if we already have control, then we're not trying to get it.

Maybe I have the wrong analogy. Maybe this is more worthy of Yogi Berra or Kafka.

Another Freaking List
The key aspect of this proposed legislation is not cybersecurity in general, but rather its granting the power to create a list of sites that would come under its purview.

 

Creation of yet another "list" by the Federal government should chill the spines of anyone who remembers J. Edgar Hoover's FBI lists, President Richard Nixon's enemies list, and who-knows-what lists that have been created by the Federal government since 9/11.

One would also hope that the list envisioned in this bill is somewhat more accurate than the risible advisory and no-fly lists that have emerged within the air transportation industry since 9/11.

Part of the plan here is apparently to include IT systems connected to things such as nuclear power plants as worthy of a Presidential shutdown.

To wit, the bill in its current proposed form states that a facility would come under jurisdiction here if it had "the potential for the destruction or disruption of the system or asset to cause a mass casualty event which includes an extraordinary number of fatalities."

Where Does it Begin & End?
Seems like a worthy enough goal. But it would also cover disruption of a system that would cause "mass economic consequences." What are these? Banking sites? Airline sites? Google? eBay? Facebook? Where does this list begin and where does it end?

I would wager that any business that finds itself under a serious cyberattack would have the wherewithal to recognize this and shut things down on its own if circumstances warranted. The last thing they would need is a bumbling Federal bureaucracy making a bumbling decision for a business about which it knows nothing--and there are pages and pages of bureaucratic process talk in S. 3480.

We can also be sure that if this bill makes it through the Senate, then through the House, then through a Presidential signature, it will be continuously amended over time to grant ever more powers to a Presidential office that already has plenty of them. And guess what, a true Internet kill switch will be one of those powers some day.

It'll be like our old friend Rico crashing a number of parties to steal ever more free food.

 

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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