The Public Eye with Eric Chabrow

Obama's 'Conspiracy' to Take Over the Net

Obama's 'Conspiracy' to Take Over the Net

When Sen. Jay Rockefeller first introduced a bill last spring to give the president the authority to halt some Internet traffic in a cyber emergency, the legislation received modest attention, but was generally dismissed as being overly expensive and too hard to implement, as this blog has reported.

Indeed, the idea was pooh-poohed by a senior Department of Homeland Security official testifying before House committee in June, who added that the administration has no plans to shutter the Net.

Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat, chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, where his bill - S. 773 - was being refined by the panel's staff over the summer. A report by the news service CNET last week said the provision to give the president the power to shutter the Internet remains halt or limit traffic to and from federal networks and the national critical IT infrastructure remains.

With August being a slow news month, at least for government cybersecurity news, the not-so-new news of the Internet shutdown provision garnered much attention on the Internet and blogosphere. And, among some of the more conspiratorial-oriented bloggers, it isn't Rockefeller but President Obama who's trying to grab control of the Internet.

Some of these bloggers point to the halting of all but military flights over the United States in 2001 immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks as proof of the president's ability to halt traffic, whether it's real or virtual. And, what occurred eight years ago was indeed remarkable. But it's a false analogy. There was a human element in the terminating all commercial and general aviation traffic that made that event more feasible than would stopping the flow of bits and bytes. Remember, there is no on-off switch for the Internet and as important, the Internet was originally architected to remain functional in a nuclear attack. The idea was that the network of networks would continue to function in a national emergency. To redesign that architecture to give the president that on-off switch, though theoretically possible, would be costly and realistically impractical.

Plus, politically, it's unachievable. A key Senate staffer who helps shape cybersecurity legislation, albeit on another committee, says the provision has little backing from most senators. Most of the Internet is privately controlled and those businesses would likely use their political muscle to defeat the legislation, as would civilian liberties organizations - mostly allies with Obama - who would not want to give any president - even a friendly one - that much power over a key communications highway.

Besides, I doubt President Obama has given much thought whether he wants to power to shutter the Internet. Keep in mind, he promised over three months ago to name a senior-level White House cybersecurity adviser and still hasn't made that appointment. The president's focus these days is elsewhere, and not on seizing control of the Internet. I doubt it ever will be.

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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