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.” (http://bit.ly/2N4UUg). 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: http://bit.ly/f8hI8

To learn more about The Center for Democracy & Technology and its work go to: http://www.cdt.org/

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/08/31/in-case-of-emergency-who-controls-the-internet/

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“Sexting”: Is it public or private communication?

This will be a short post. I am not a legal expert, my field is communications. But the recent legal action being taken against some teenage girls, and the legal process which is moving forward in connection with the cases in question, may ultimately have an impact on the matter of what constitutes public vs. private communication in this new communications age. The facts  are these: In New Jersey, a 14 year old girl has been accused of child pornography after posting explicit nude pictures of herself on MySpace.com; the girl supposedly posted the photos because she wanted her boyfriend to see them. In northeastern Pennsylvania, a prosecutor recently threatened to file child pornography charges against three teenage girls who are said to have taken sexually suggestive cellphone pictures of themselves which showed up on their classmates’ cellphones.  “Sexting” by the way is the term used for such activity when done by cellphone.

Technology has in some ways made the “wall” between what is public and what is private much more porous, it’s more like a curtain now, waving in the breeze. But technology isn’t the culprit here, perhaps it’s more a facilitator. Years ago, long before my time, when the telephone was really still in its infancy, there were party lines, shared by a number of subscribers, such that one’s conversation could be overheard by others, who “inadvertently” might listen in. There is some comparability between today and yesterday in this.

The cases noted probably don’t hinge at all on the public/private issue, but rather matters pertaining to legal definitions of “knowingly” committing a crime, and the minor status of the “perpetrators”.

On Monday, a federal judge blocked the prosecutor in the Pennsylvania case I have cited from filing charges against the girls involved. The American Civil Liberties Union sought the temporary restraining order on behalf of the girls. The prosecutor said he would consider seeking an appeal. This case and others like it should be followed closely; these  legal uncharted waters may have ramifications, including first amendment ramifications,  for us all.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/31/sexting-is-it-public-or-private-communication/

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A Jurassic Park kind of world

In many of today’s opinion pages, be they online or in print, readers were treated to a very insightful article by Kathleen Parker, titled “Weird new media world” in which, it seemed abundantly apparent to me, she was putting forth the premise that newspapers are a core communications vehicle of American society and conducted appropriately constitute the bedrock on which a free society is maintained. So granting necessary reshaping to conform to technological and cultural changes (I advisedly here avoid the term “advances” to describe such changes) the medium is important to retain. In her own words:

“Whatever business models emerge…newspapers have to focus on their traditional core of fact-based, serious reporting. We might add to that formula the need for a serious populace informed about the fragile thread that connects a free press to a free future. “

A number of considerations emerge from careful reading of her piece. Yes, I don’t have much need for the TV guide section of my local paper now that I have a TV guide accessible on my TV; so newspapers need to define themselves based on their “root” purpose to borrow a term from the computer age. A “root” directory in computer file systems is the first or top-most directory in a hierarchy. It can be likened to the root of a tree – the starting point where all branches originate. (Paraphrased from Wikipedia). This is basic Marketing 101 of course. Amtrak isn’t in the business of running trains, they’re in the business of transportation. Find the “root” and stick to it she seems to be urging, and keep a first amendment bulwark in place in the bargain.

What is fascinating, is the “spin” this gets in the “comment room”; I just checked out one: http://townhall.com/columnists/KathleenParker/2009/03/15/weird_new_media_world?page=2 and the majority of comments at this site are made by fire breathing persons who seem to have read only one word of her article, that word appearing as the last word of the article’s third paragraph and spelled b-i-a-s, “bias”. But the real bias, as I see it, is on the part of the commenters; which leads me to the book True Enough by Farhad Manjoo. The Publishers Weekly review of the book puts it this way: “Salon blogger Manjoo…in his perceptive analysis of the status of truth in the digital age, critiquing a Rashomon-like world in which competing versions of truth vie for our attention.” The book deserves more attention in a separate post, and the book deserves our attention in general because it presents a pretty disquieting picture of our future as a society of many different groups of “Dittoheads” as referenced in paragraph two of Parker’s article!

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/16/a-jurassic-park-kind-of-world/

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