“Misrepresentations in the Cybersphere,” or, Why Congress Shouldn’t Touch the Internet

Joe Lieberman’s Senate Homeland Security committee passed this week a “cybersecurity” bill that would expand the President’s powers and control of the Internet in a national emergency. In addition to Lieberman, the bill’s sponsors include Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Susan Collins (R-ME). But it was Collins’ defense of the bill that should send shivers up the spines of anyone who cares about the Internet:

“It’s been frustrating to read some of the misrepresentations of our bill in the cybersphere,” Collins said, arguing the new bill actually circumscribes the president’s existing authority and puts controls on its use. “I believe the substitute amendment we’re offering strengthens those protections even more.”

“Misrepresentations in the cybersphere.” This is a person who has no idea what they’re talking about. No one who knows, or even uses, the Internet would dare utter the phrase, “cybersphere” in the year 2010. Next thing you know, Collins will defend the need to clear the blockages of the series of tubes that power the Internet…

Now, Collins was specifically referring to reports “in the cybersphere” that Lieberman’s bill created new authority for the President to use an “Internet kill switch” to shut down the Information Superhighway in the case of a national emergency. Collins is actually correct – the bill doesn’t create this authority, as it already exists in the Telecommunications Act of 1934. This bill, as Collins notes, affirms the authority the President already has to kill the Internet, radio, and other forms of communications. (Thanks to lotus in the comments at The Oil Drum for this information.)

The bill has been criticized by civil liberties and technology groups for its lack of protection for free speech in such an emergency. And for good reason; in addition to serious civil liberties concerns, it’s Joe Lieberman’s initial defense of the bill, and its affirmation of the Internet kill switch, that should make any American afraid:

“Right now China, the government, can disconnect parts of its Internet in case of war and we need to have that here too,” said Lieberman.

Saying the United States needs to be more like China in its control of citizens should be no way to approach regulation of the Internet, even in a national emergency. It’s just more evidence that people like Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, and Ted Stevens should leave regulation of the Internet to people who actually know what they’re talking about.