The Egyptian regime’s shutdown of the Internet in an attempt to preserve its political power highlights the dangers of any government having unchecked power over our Internet infrastructure, and puts a fine point on the risks to democracy posed by recent Congressional proposals to give the President a broad mandate to dictate how our internet service providers respond to cyber-emergencies.
While the 2010 Senate Cybersecurity bill (sponsored by Senators Lieberman, Collins, and Carper) was an improvement on its draconian predecessors, the lesson of Egypt is that no one, not even the President of the United States, should be given the power to turn off the Internet.
Any proposal to give the President the ability to interfere with Internet access of Americans— whether to address cyber-attacks or for any other reason—must be tightly circumscribed. It must be limited to situations where there are serious and demonstrable external security threats and must be strongly checked by both Congressional and court review, to ensure that Internet users’ rights to freely and privately publish and communicate over the Internet are protected.
The U.S. Constitution has no provision suspending our rights during emergencies and Congress shouldn’t try to create one either. EFF and a host of other organizations raised these and other concerns about the 2010 Cybersecurity Bill, and we will continue to raise them as the 2011 Congress takes up cybersecurity again.
This commentary was written by Cindy Cohn, and was first published on Electronic Frontier Foundation.