FEDS MOVE TO CONTROL INTERNET
By Victor Thorn
“Barack Obama wants to shut down the Internet. He’s becoming Big Brother.”
These types of accusations are plaguing the highly criticized Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (S. 773). However, at this time, the government cannot terminate the Internet for any extended duration as there is not a “switch” that can be flipped to shut it down.
The reason is that U.S. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are independent entities and not state-owned as they are in China or North Korea. Anyone who says the government can shut it down either doesn’t understand how the Internet works, or is pushing a fear-based agenda.
The real cause for concern revolves around how the government wants to deal with privately owned ISPs. As it stands now, the Net is reminiscent of an unregulated Wild West. But, if President Obama were to declare a “cybersecurity emergency” under this newly updated legislation, our country’s communications networks would become more vulnerable to external control.
In the Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Me.) bill, federal authorities would create a single, standardized set of regulations for all designated private networks.
Greg Nojeim of the Center for Democracy & Technology warned in April, “if everyone builds to the same standard and the bad guys know these standards, it makes it easier for the bad guys.” Thus, rather than trying to cripple a complex, autonomous World Wide Web (a virtually impossible task), Huliq News points out, “those attacking the U.S. could break through the single standard rather than the various ones that exist now.”
If a national emergency arises, Roy Marks wrote on August 31 in “Revised Bill Still Gives Obama Unprecedented Cyber-security Powers,” “the Secretary of Commerce would have the authority to access ‘all relevant data concerning [ISPs] without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule or policy restricting such access.’”
This agency, in league with the National Security Agency (NSA), will then decide when the Internet is to be restored following any given crisis situation.
Wayne Crews, technology director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, states, “Virtually anything networked to some other computer
is potentially fair game if President Obama exercises ‘emergency powers.’”
In the meantime, researcher and activist Tom Burghardt surmised on Aug. 29 that the government and mainstream media will “become the sole conduit for critical news and information during a ‘national emergency.’”
The ominous nature of this standardization (including “cybersecurity blacklists”) is reflected in a commentary by techno-journalist Declan McCullagh. “If your company is deemed ‘critical,’ a new set of regulations kicks in involving who you can hire, what information you must disclose, and when the government would exercise control over your computers or network.”
In their zeal to freeze private online service providers, Dwight Schwab Jr., in “Still Think ‘Big Brother’ is a Silly Concept?,” notes that the heavy-handed actions mentioned earlier will ensue at the government’s sole discretion via licensed “cybersecurity professionals.”
Considering the recent spate of cyber attacks against our country, lawmakers should instead focus on strengthening the safety of their own networks. In addition, many Americans feel more threatened by the intrusiveness of their own government rather than the perpetual bogeyman used to keep us in a state of continual fear.
To augment this point, Burghardt examined the Cybersecurity Act’s sponsors. It was drafted by Rockefeller and Snowe. Both are staunch allies of the National Security Agency and the telecommunications industry. And both were “key enablers of Bush-era warrantless wiretapping and privacy-killing data mining programs that continue apace under Obama,” Burghardt points out.
“The New York Times revealed in June how a former NSA analyst described a secret database code-named Pinwale that archived foreign and domestic e-mail messages. . . . two intelligence officers confirmed that the program was still in operation,” says Burghardt.
In a June 16 NewYork Times article by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, government officials testified before Congress that “intercepts of the private telephone calls and e-mail messages of Americans are broader than previously acknowledged.”
Where the subject of computers is concerned, right now the government is limited in their ability to shut down the Internet.
But if draconian new legislation is passed, they will greatly increase their potential to make themselves the sole providers of information in times of widespread upheaval and panic. If such an apparatus is established, Americans may find themselves in a “virtual information void” when information and technology is most needed.
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(Issue # 39, September 21 & 28, 2009)