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Could The Feds Seize The Internet?

September 3, 2009

Does anyone trust Obama with “The power to define and declare” anything?

Could The Feds Seize The Internet?

IBD: 3 Sept. 2009

Security: A Senate bill lets the president “declare a cybersecurity emergency” relating to “nongovernmental” computer networks and do what’s needed to respond to the threat. Didn’t they just collect our e-mail addresses?

We wish this was just a piece of the fictional “Dr. Strangelove” that fell to the cutting-room floor, but it’s not. It is a real piece of disturbingly vague legislation sponsored by Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

Senate Bill 773 would grant the administration emergency powers (where have we heard that before?) in the event of a cyberemergency that the president would have the power to define and declare.

Wait a minute. Didn’t the left recently weep and gnash its teeth over President George W. Bush’s wireless surveillance of communications between real, live terrorists who want to kill us and their American contacts? Would Congress have given Bush such a sweeping power?

Have we already forgotten the administration wanting Americans to spy on their neighbors and report “fishy” communications opposing health care to flag@whitehouse.gov? Didn’t oodles of our e-mail addresses wind up in the White House from which then came unsolicited e-mails supporting ObamaCare?

A working draft of the legislation, which is in its second incarnation, obtained by an Internet privacy group, would grant the secretary of commerce access to all privately owned information networks deemed critical to the nation’s infrastructure “without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule or policy restricting such access.” Where’s the ACLU?

Sen. Rockefeller says he wants to prevent a “digital Pearl Harbor,” and so do we. We have written extensively about the threat posed by foreign hackers and governments such as Russia and China to our power grids and the like. Chinese hackers have even penetrated Pentagon computer networks. We are also mindful of sacrificing a little liberty in the name of security and winding up with neither.

“The cybersecurity threat is real,” said Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, which obtained the draft of S. 773, “but such a drastic federal intervention in private communications technology and networks could harm both security and privacy.”

Jennifer Granick, civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Mother Jones the bill was “contrary to what the Constitution promises us.” According to Granick, granting the Commerce Department oversight of “critical” networks such as banking systems would grant the government access to potentially incriminating information without cause or warrant, a violation of the Constitution’s prohibition against unlawful search and seizure.

Like the health care bill, there are several versions of S. 773; what people have seen is vaguely written. The bill does not clearly define what a cyberemergency or critical network is. Nor does it explicitly define the powers of the president in such an emergency or what he is prevented from doing. That is left up to the administration in power.

Section 201 of the bill permits the president to “direct the national response to the cyber threat” for “the national defense and security.” The White House is supposed to engage in “periodic mapping” of private networks, and these companies “shall share” requested information with the federal government.

The federal government would be empowered to access any information on the Internet and find “choke points” where hackers and governments, including our own, might be able to control, or stop, the flow of data and information. Your Internet service provider would be required by law to supply federal bureaucrats with whatever network, account, usage and history information they deem appropriate.

To further keep an eye on things, the bill establishes a federal training and certification program for cybersecurity professionals and requires that certain computer systems and networks in the private sector be managed by people who have been properly trained by the government and awarded that government license. The private sector can’t be trusted to do the job.

But don’t be afraid. It’s for your own good. Big Brother will watch over you.

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