In case of emergency, who controls the Internet?

S. 773, The Cybersecurity Act of 2009, presently being redacted by the Senate Commerce Committee, is a piece of pending legislation that bears watching. On April 1, 2009, Senators John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) introduced legislation designed to promote cybersecurity, a reasonable cause per se. 

President Obama, in a public statement delivered from the East Room of the White House on May 29, 2009 emphasized the need for “securing our nation’s cyber infrastructure”. While considering this essential, he emphasized his commitment to an open Internet:

Let me also be clear about what we will not do. Our pursuit of cybersecurity will not — I repeat, will not include — monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic. We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans. Indeed, I remain firmly committed to net neutrality so we can keep the Internet as it should be open and free.

Now those in the know, including The Center for Democracy and Technology,  have expressed concerns about components of the proposed legislation. CDT, defines itself as “a non-profit public interest organization working to keep the Internet open, innovative, and free.” Its mission is to build “consensus among all parties interested in the future of the Internet and other new communications media.”

Now those who claim to be in the know,  in a variety of recent articles over the past several days,  in the blogosphere and elsewhere,  have made statements about this issue which are more prone to incite than inform. Some of the rhetoric being used is akin to that being employed in the health care debate. Both issues are too important to be reduced to epithets.

On August 20, Commerce Committee staff circulated for comment a draft Committee Amendment to S. 773.

In an effort to render a reasoned interpretation of where this proposed legislation now stands, C&C contacted Greg Nojeim, Senior Counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology and the Director of its Project on Freedom, Security & Technology. He provided  the following statement:

“The draft Committee Amendment to the Cybersecurity Act marks a substantial improvement over the original version, but ambiguous language in the draft Committee Amendment also raises new concerns and questions about its scope.”

Previously this blog referenced the attempt by the government of Iran to impose an information blackout during the  protest by its citizens of a suspect election. “Internet access has been successfully curtailed to strangle the flow of information in and out of the country.” ( Of course the citizenry turned to their cellphones and through tweets on Twitter and video on YouTube circumvented the Internet shut down. 

Throughout history, to the present day, totalitarian regimes  use access to information to subjugate. In this country, civil liberties are protected. The balancing of  these rights with legitimate national security concerns in an Internet driven world is what is at stake in this case.

While there are a number of elements in S. 733 in need of scrutiny,  the section which deals with Presidential  authority to address a cybersecurity emergency is certainly and rightly a “hot button” issue, no pun intended (“kill switch” was a term previously employed in connection with this provision).

Beyond the Commerce Committee, there are other proposed pieces of related legislation circulating. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is supposed to issue its own bill sometime this fall.

 It is expected that The Center for Democracy & Technology, in consort with other responsible organizations, will continue to voice concerns and work with Commerce Committee staff regarding this bill. In the meantime, stay calm and vigilant.

To read the full text of President Obama’s statement on securing our cyber infrastructure go to:

To learn more about The Center for Democracy & Technology and its work go to:

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