Obama 'Kill Switch': Could U.S. Turn Off Our Internet Like Egypt?

Here's some creepy timing: legislation that grants the president internet-killing powers is to be re-introduced to a Senate committee. The revival of what's being called the “kill switch” legislation came the same day Egyptians faced a massive internet blackout brought on by their government.

As you've probably been reading, the Egyptian government shut down nearly all forms of digital communication in an attempt to stop the spread of demonstrations in their country. It's a scary situation, with some 20 million users who relied on the big four Egyptian ISPs for their Internet connectivity now cut off from the rest of the world.

In the U.S., the "kill switch" bill is being described as legislation that would not grant Obama the same power Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak is currently wielding against dissenters. Rather, it's supposed to give the government, specifically the President of the United States, the ability to deal with cyber attacks.


Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican ranking member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told Wired.com,

“My legislation would provide a mechanism for the government to work with the private sector in the event of a true cyber emergency. It would give our nation the best tools available to swiftly respond to a significant threat.”

So this would allow the President to "issue a declaration of an imminent cyber threat to covered critical infrastructure," at which point a director of cybersecurity is then supposed to "develop and coordinate emergency measures or actions necessary to preserve the reliable operation, and mitigate or remediate the consequences of the potential disruption, of covered critical infrastructure."

(Whew. That was a mouthful of mumbo-jumbo.)

Okay, I'm all for protecting our country and citizens from cyber attacks, but is anyone else thinking of, oh, say, "Heck of a job, Brownie"? I'm just saying, I'm not sure I fully trust the capabilities of our government when it comes to "developing and coordinating emergency measures."

Having read through the
fact sheet on the bill, though, I'm less inclined to worry that this is about giving Obama the ability to flip the Internet to OFF. The answer appears to be no, the U.S. probably can't ever cut off our country's communications the same way things are happening in Egypt.

Still, I have a vaguely uneasy, Big-Brothery feeling about it. It seems to me that individuals and businesses should be responsible for securing their own internet access and data—instead of the government having the authority to do it for us.

What do you think about this proposed legislation?

Image via Flickr/fazen

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