We have been attacked. You don’t know how to find your loved ones. You try to log on to the internet to send email. Your access is denied. The President of the United States has disconnected you in the name national security in the middle of a worldwide crisis. In your hour of need, you have been cut off from the web with no immediate expectation for getting back online.

Does that scenario frighten you?

It’s about to become your very real nightmare if President Obama has his way with us in the name of “national security.”

Internet companies and civil liberties groups were alarmed this spring when a U.S. Senate bill proposed handing the White House the power to disconnect private-sector computers from the Internet. 

They’re not much happier about a revised version that aides to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, have spent months drafting behind closed doors. CNET News has obtained a copy of the 55-page draft of S.773, which still appears to permit the president to seize temporary control of private-sector networks during a so-called cybersecurity emergency.

The new version would allow the president to “declare a cybersecurity emergency” relating to “non-governmental” computer networks and do what’s necessary to respond to the threat. Other sections of the proposal include a federal certification program for “cybersecurity professionals,” and a requirement that certain computer systems and networks in the private sector be managed by people who have been awarded that license.

Intrepid CBS reporter Declan McCullagh presses four important questions that the Senate must answer before this awful bill is made into law:

——– Original Message ——–
Subject: Query from CBS News re: revised Rockefeller/Cybersecurity Act / S.773
Date: Wed, 26 Aug 2009 14:20:11 -0700
From: Declan McCullagh
Reply-To: declan@cbsnews.com
Organization: CBSNews.com
To: charles_stewart@commerce.senate.gov


Thanks for talking a minute ago. I’m reading a revised draft of the
Cybersecurity Act/S.773 dated this month and had a few questions:

* The original version of the legislation allowed the National
Cybersecurity Advisor to disconnect “critical” networks from the
Internet. The revised version says the president can “declare a
cybersecurity emergency” relating to “nongovernmental” networks and
“direct the national response to the cyber threat.” That seems vague:
does it mean the executive branch does or does *not* have the power to
disconnect private networks?

* The revised version gives the executive branch 180 days to “implement”
a “comprehensive national cybersecurity strategy” and 90 days to develop
a plan to implement a “dashboard pilot project.” But the mandated legal
review won’t be done until 1 year. Why not wait until the legal review
is done before implementing a “comprehensive national cybersecurity

* In Silicon Valley and the tech industry in general, lots of employees
do not have formal training in computer security (they may studied math
or physics, for instance) but nevertheless work in that area. Bill
Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Larry Ellison, don’t have college
degrees. Will the cybersecurity certification program be open to
non-degreed people? And does the “certified service provider” extend to
services like Gmail and Hotmail?

* One section says that private sector crit. infrastructure firms “shall
share” certain information with the federal government. Is this
open-ended, or are there limits to this requirement?

Thanks for your help!



If the Cybersecurity Act/S.773 had been the law of our land on 9/11, would it have been pushed into effect?


Would we have been able to get online and connect with each other?

Not likely.

Now — with the rise of Twitter and Facebook and other social networks since the fall of the Twin Towers — the first place we turn our eye in desperation is into the virtual company of others.

If the president takes us offline during the next terrorist attack — does that cripple our ability to communicate in the ways we currently demand and expect because being online is now a part of us and that freedom to speak with each other at will is considered a coveted and sacrosanct right?

Or will we accept being disconnected — because of a terrorist threat or a perceived or sensed attack that might be coming or might not — all in the name of being good citizens in a world that will likely become more, not less, disconnected in the future? 


  1. Frightening thought, David. I wonder if there is such thing as this kind of law being used responsibly?

  2. I don’t think it would used responsibly, Gordon. Imagine if Bush and Cheney had this power! I seriously doubt we’d even have something like Twitter today, and we’d all be licensed — not a bad thing, really — and we’d have metered time on the internet that would be logged and analyzed and blogs like this one would no longer be in publication.
    We need a Constitutional amendment making it clear that internet access is protected free speech and that the government cannot remove the web from us in the same way they can’t touch our guns.

  3. I can’t think of not being connected with the rest of the world virtually – I would feel like a fish out of water.
    And not being connected in the name of security??? I think staying connected helps while an entire nation is in distress…

  4. I agree, Katha, but if you want to “fight terrorism” while also silencing your critics — turning off “the pipe” makes it that much harder to unite against the power. Scary stuff.

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