Bill Would Give President Emergency Control of Internet

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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
(excerpt),
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.

"I think
the redraft, while improved, remains troubling due to its vagueness,"
said Larry Clinton, president of the Internet
Security Alliance
, which counts representatives of Verizon,
Verisign, Nortel, and Carnegie Mellon University on its board. "It
is unclear what authority Sen. Rockefeller thinks is necessary over
the private sector. Unless this is clarified, we cannot properly
analyze, let alone support the bill."

Representatives
of other large Internet and telecommunications companies expressed
concerns about the bill in a teleconference with Rockefeller’s aides
this week, but were not immediately available for interviews on
Thursday.

A spokesman
for Rockefeller also declined to comment on the record Thursday,
saying that many people were unavailable because of the summer recess.
A Senate source familiar with the bill compared the president’s
power to take control of portions of the Internet to what President
Bush did when grounding all aircraft on Sept. 11, 2001. The source
said that one primary concern was the electrical grid, and what
would happen if it were attacked from a broadband connection.

When Rockefeller,
the chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, and Olympia Snowe
(R-Maine) introduced the original bill in April, they claimed
it was vital to protect national cybersecurity. "We must protect
our critical infrastructure at all costs – from our water to
our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health
records," Rockefeller said.

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the rest of the article

August
29, 2009

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