Last week, a Senate committee approved the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010, which promptly caused many members of the blogosphere to lose their minds. See, the act has been heralded as the “Internet Kill Switch Bill” and, as such, it’s purported to give our president the power to shut down all of cyberspace (in case of an emergency, of course).
The particular provision in question allows the president "to authorize emergency measures to protect the nation's most critical infrastructure if a cyber vulnerability is being exploited or is about to be exploited." Essentially, this means that the president could order a specific Internet company or ask a particular website to shut down if sufficient evidence of a cyber-threat were to surface.
“[The nation’s] electric grid, the telecommunications grid, transportation, all the rest is constantly being probed by nation states, by some terrorist groups, by organized criminal gangs," Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) explained in an interview on CNN. "We need the capacity for the president to say, Internet service provider, we've got to disconnect the American Internet from all traffic coming in from another foreign country, or we've got to put a patch on this part of it."
Sounds serious (or vague) enough. However, according to Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.), the bill’s sponsors, the new act doesn’t create an Internet kill switch … because, technically, one already exists.
Under the Communications Act of 1934, which was amended in 1996, the president can shut down any or all wireless communications available and control or close down “any or all facilities or stations for wire communication within the jurisdiction of the United States” during a period ending “not later than six months after the termination of such state or threat of war and not later than such earlier date as the Congress by concurrent resolution may designate.”
Lieberman and Collins maintain that the new bill actually limits the authority that the president has under the Communications Act of 1934. After all, the bill stipulates that now the President can only declare cyber-emergencies for 30-day increments, which can only be stretched beyond 120 days with the permission of Congress.