Desperate for Internet control, Senate leaders once again put the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 up for a vote yesterday, and yet again, it failed to pass. But this time it was one vote closer (51 to 47) to passing than its August defeat (52 to 46).
The Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, first introduced in 2010 by Joe Lieberman, was quickly dubbed the Internet Kill Switch Bill because of the power it gives to the executive branch to seize or shut down parts of the Internet in a cyber emergency.
At the time Lieberman justified this draconian power grab by saying, “Right now, China, the government, can disconnect parts of its Internet in a case of war. We need to have that here, too.”
Here’s the interview where he made these statements along with some commentary on why this policy is so dangerous:
Section 249 of the bill states that “the President may issue a declaration of a national cyber emergency to covered critical infrastructure,” in which case a response plan is implemented. This plan shall consist of “measures or actions necessary to preserve the reliable operation, and mitigate or remediate the consequences of the potential disruption, of covered critical infrastructure”. (Source)
This bill was incredibly unpopular two years ago when it was introduced and America has not been hit with any significant cyber attacks since. However, as the cyber threat propaganda has been thrust into overdrive, more legislators seem to be swayed. Yet, still, it failed to pass.
It seems that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s warnings of a cyber “Pearl Harbor” or “9/11” and DHS Head Janet Napolitano’s urgent warnings after Hurricane Sandy were not strong enough fear mongering to move this law forward.
Just before Obama’s re-election we wondered how long it would take for him to pull the trigger on his cybersecurity executive order; “this persistent manufactured urgency would seem to indicate that they will not wait for Congress to pass a cybersecurity law. Rather, they will likely bypass the Constitution and dictate their authority to control the Internet by having Obama sign an executive order instead.”
And before yesterday’s vote, Lieberman assured us that would happen when he warned that if Senate didn’t act on cybersecurity, Obama will: “I’m confident that if we fail to act, the president will act,” Lieberman said. “I think he has a responsibility to act because if we don’t we’re leaving the American people extremely vulnerable to a cybersecurity attack.”
The Hill states “Wednesday’s vote opens the door for the White House to issue the executive order it started crafting after the Senate bill failed in August.”
Indeed, Obama is fully expected to sign the executive order as he told lawmakers in August, inaction “would be the height of irresponsibility” and it would “leave a digital backdoor wide open to our cyber adversaries.”
Perhaps Obama will sign it in the wee hours of New Year’s Eve as he did with the controversial NDAA last year. This way the countless year-end fluff stories by the corporate media will drown out any criticism.
Unfortunately, this is just one of many threats to the free and open Internet.
UPDATE: The Washington Post is reporting that President Obama signed a secret cybersecurity presidential directive: Presidential Policy Directive 20. Apparently this directive was signed in October:
Presidential Policy Directive 20 establishes a broad and strict set of standards to guide the operations of federal agencies in confronting threats in cyberspace, according to several U.S. officials who have seen the classified document and are not authorized to speak on the record. The president signed it in mid-October.
The new directive is the most extensive White House effort to date to wrestle with what constitutes an “offensive” and a “defensive” action in the rapidly evolving world of cyberwar and cyberterrorism, where an attack can be launched in milliseconds by unknown assailants utilizing a circuitous route. For the first time, the directive explicitly makes a distinction between network defense and cyber-operations to guide officials charged with making often-rapid decisions when confronted with threats.