Senators Seek Ban on Internet 'Kill Switch'

Senators Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Susan Collins, R-Me. and Tom Carper, D-Del. have introduced updated cybersecurity legislation that bans the president from shutting down the Internet in the event of a national emergency after another version of the bill was criticized last year for seemingly giving the president the option of an Internet “kill switch.”

“While experts question whether anyone can technically ‘shut down’ the Internet in the United States, our bill has specific language making it crystal clear that such actions are expressly prohibited,” Collins said in a statement.

The Cybersecurity and Internet Freedom Act explicitly states that “neither the President, the Director of the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications or any officer or employee of the United States Government shall have the authority to shut down the Internet.” The bill also provides an opportunity for judicial review of designations of the country’s most sensitive systems and assets as “covered critical infrastructure.”

“We want to clear the air once and for all. As someone said recently, the term ‘kill switch’ has become the ‘death panels’ of the cybersecurity debate. There is no so-called ‘kill switch’ in our legislation because the very notion is antithetical to our goal of providing precise and targeted authorities to the President,” Lieberman said. “Furthermore, it is impossible to turn off the Internet in this country. This legislation applies to the most critical infrastructures that Americans rely on in their daily lives—energy transmission, water supply, financial services, for example—to ensure that those assets are protected in case of a potentially crippling cyber attack.”

A spokesperson from Microsoft Corp. said the company supports the notion of adding clarifying language to the bill.

“We believe it was wise of Sens. Lieberman and Collins to add language to their cybersecurity legislation clarifying that the U.S. government would not have a so-called ‘kill switch’ authority to cut off Internet access in case of a national emergency,” the spokesperson said. “That being said, it is not our belief that their original language in previous legislation would have created such authority or that it was intended to do so. It is our understanding that the senators added this language to foreclose further debate about whether or not such a power could be created if their bill were to pass.”

About the Author

Cindy Horbrook is content development editor for Security Products magazine.

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