GovHelp: Should Politicians Have the Power to Pull the Internet Plug?

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This topic contains 16 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by  Steve Ressler 9 years, 5 months ago.

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  • #121823

    You’ve all been seeing the news about the Egyptian government killing its Internet to thwart protesters. They obviously learned a lesson from the 2009-10 election protests in Iran. In case you’ve missed it, here’s some context from an article in PC Mag by Dan Costa:

    What can an undemocratic government to do to control its people? If tear gas and rubber bullets don’t work, take away their Twitter and Facebook access, of course. And if the people still don’t fall into line, cut off their Internet and mobile phone access entirely. That’s exactly what the Egyptian government did today when confronted with citizenry taking to the streets and demanding regime change. The surprising thing isn’t that a corrupt, authoritarian regime would launch this kind of state-sponsored denial off service attack on its own citizens. Nor that it is willing to jeopardize its economy by cutting its businesses off from world markets. No, the thing that surprises me is that the U.S. government has plans for its own Internet Kill Switch.

    The legislation was first introduced last summer by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), and the former has promised to bring it to the floor again in 2011. It isn’t called anything as obvious as the Internet Kill Switch, of course. It is called the “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act.”

    Here’s the link to that legislation in case you want to read it for yourself:

    But the question remains:

    Should the US government have the ability
    and authority to shut down the Internet?

    If not, why not? If so, under what circumstances?

  • #121855

    Steve Ressler

    I really don’t like the idea of the government having the authority to shut down the Internet. Great post on it entitled “A Frightening Week

  • #121853

    From Twitter:

  • #121851

    Mark Hammer

    Of course the irony is that the very origins of what we now know as “the internet” was a system/network of nodes for military purposes ( ).

    One needs to distinguish, as well, between two very different purposes of any “kill-switch”: a) shut-down as a protection mechanism against cyber-attack (where consumer/citizen loss of access would be a concommitant of preventing malicious use of cyberspace), and b) shut-down as a mechanism to prevent citizen-to-citizen communication (as was the case in Egypt).

    Would a shut-down be a contravention of first amendment rights? Interesting question. Insomuch as what is enshrined is not the means by which one expresses oneself but simply the right to do so, an internet shut-down does not preclude anyone from expressing whatever they wish, though it would obviously affect the efficiency with which.they could do so. Moreover, the first amendment is about expression and not about access to information. Is the internet principally a means to express or a means to access?

    I think, as well, the nature of the question changes with time. An internet shutdown certainly would not have consttuted a complete and total paralysis of business as recently as a decade ago. A shutdown now means the entire economy grinds to a sudden screechng halt. On the other hand, perhaps that is the insurance citizens want in order to know that such a shutdown would only occur as a means of last resort for purpose A and not for purpose B.

  • #121849

    Jeff Ribeira

    I think Mark brings up a good point regarding purposes. Under some type of extreme cyber-attack, I could almost see the motivation behind cutting off public internet access…almost. Although, I’m still having trouble envisioning a scenario where the benefits of doing so would outweigh the costs (like Mark said, it would literally bring the economy to a dead stop in today’s internet-dependent society. Not good at all). I’m all for national security, but there would have to be a serious threat, with some serious explanation to the public in order to warrant such an order. In the Egypt scenario, I say that’s just never acceptable. In any case, it’s definitely interesting and frightening to think about, that’s for sure.

  • #121847

    Denise Petet

    In theory, I can see a benefit. Spammers, especially foreign ones from Russia and China have been massively more active since the first of the year. It seems that recapcatcha (those scrambled letters and numbers you have to enter to prove that you’re a real person) has been cracked, so spammers are experimenting with what they can do. I moderate a large bulletin board and starting Jan 4th we saw HUNDREDS of new registrations a day (our normal number is about a dozen). And we weren’t the only ones. Other bulletin boards and message boards are experiencing the same thing. And the spammers seem to be slowly working their way through other means of mass communication.

    Some of it is harmless spam, ‘come see my webcam’ ‘download movies for free’ ‘nike jordan shoes’, but a few of them have contained viruses/trojans. And those are a risk for all. Viruses spread fast enough when they’re mailed to people, can you imagine how fast they’d spread if something, for example, like the comments page on had one that downloaded if you rolled over a link?

    In cases like that, you can see the benefit of someone having the ability to shut the net down to stop the spread of a virus.

    On the other hand…do we really trust those with their fngers on the switch? That’s a large part of what it boils down to. Do we trust them?

    I for one don’t. Becaus we have too many people in power that have a track record of catering more to their sponsors/lobbyist groups, etc than they do looking at something more openly.

    I do think that Egypt’s civil unrest is just teh start. That there will be more countries joining in as the disparity between the ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ gets wider and wider. And if I can see something like that happening, you know that others can. For many, the internet is the only means of communication.

    I was online during 911, and didn’t need to call anyone, but the internet was the fastest way to find out what was going on. Especially now with facebook and twitter and other social networking tools, members of the public no longer need to wait for a news network to spread news/information. which is a double edged sword. Because it can spread both good and bad news. It can warn people of a riot, or it can invite people to join it.

    But giving any one person, any one agency, any one group sole power to shut it down? bad, bad and bad on oh so many levels. And largely because, for years, there has been a trend of a lack of integrity that had bred a very deep sense of mistrust. I don’t want them to have the power because I simply don’t trust them to use it appropriately.

  • #121845

    Matthew Hall

    Currently, there is a campaign in Canada to ask the Government to step in and stop Internet Companies from charging too much for internet usage. See the Campaign website for more.

    So, in some cases when it is benefit the citizens, I think the government should be able to step in.

  • #121843

    Adriel Hampton

    Hell no!

  • #121841

    What if the shut down could be more granular/targeted? Does that change your opinion?

  • #121839

    Bill Brantley

    It’s a First Amendment issue but not one of speech. Shutting down the Internet violates the Freedoms of Association and Assembly. The government can temporarily shut down the interstate to repair it or for public safety but if the interstate is shut down to prevent people from traveling so that they can assemble to exercise their political rights than the government is damaging the very foundation of democracy.

    This applies to the Internet because the social networking technologies allow us to virtually assemble and associate with like-minded people.

  • #121837

    Mark Hammer

    Excellent point and distinction. Let me add to it, though. Is internet closure a violation of the freedom of assembly and association, or merely one alternative? Consider that, prior to the WWW and web 2.0, no one ever considered that, in its absence, THE freedom of association and assembly was obstructed; there were always other alternatives.

    I think that’s an important point. What is guaranteed is not that you have any convenient form you desire, but that the fundamental opportunity in some form never be obstructed. If convenience was at the heart of the 1st, then clearly anything that prevents less than maximum bandwidth by your ISP could be construed as contravening the 1st.

  • #121835

    Short Answer: No.

    Bigger answer: We should have a Real World Circuit Breaker installed. Think about STUXNET. It’s a computer virus that can manipulate things in the physical world. THIS is the danger. I do think the internet should have a Circuit Breaker that prevents certain ports/websites from being able to interact with the world wide web. (Think infrastructure, banking systems, and things like that.

  • #121833

    Bill Brantley

    Routing around the damage or potential threats to democracy – 4 More Projects to Create a Government-less Internet

  • #121831

    Adam Arthur

    Without question…NO. Period. End of story.

  • #121829

    Peter Sperry

    This is a bit like asking if government should have the authority to shut down the surface transprotation network. It it even possible in an advanced country? Dictators in Egypt and nations with a limited number of ISPs using relatively centralized facilities may be able to pull it off but trying the same thing in the U.S. or Western Europe would probably be much more difficult.

  • #121827

    Allen Sheaprd

    While the government can shut down the phone system It should not shutdown the internet. It will not stop a virus as they can lay dormant.

    Andrew – a finer more granular shutdown does sound better but it does not change my opinon. Even in a smaller area shutting down the internet 9-1-1 from cable phones are conneted. Cable TV is shut down leading to an information vacume. Control of some power distribution and business is shut down in the affected area.

    In a long term shutdown food and goods re-ordering is shut down. Remeber people could go into panic buying so just repeating normal deliveries may not work.

    Medical records for hospitals, over the internet, would be disrupted. Air traffic control over the internet would be shut down. Banking and stock trade would be shut down.

    Computer virus would not be stopped. Hackers have loaded virus/worms that lay dormant till a specific day. We loaded one in Iran that lay dormant. Yes by staying dormant the virus is puts backup disks / tape.

    A DNS (denial of service) can be shutdown by ISP. A DNS from another country can be shut down the same way.

    The simple answer is no. Best to have “Plan B” allowing normal work without the internet. Because Windows is so prevelent it would cause the most damage. Having another less popular operating system would offer some protection – in my opinon.

  • #121825

    Amy Hamilton

    In some countries: Sweden, Finland and Estonia; Internet access has already been declared a human right. If the Internet had existed when the amendments were written, I agree with the poster that said this would fall under the 1st amendemnt. The people have a right to assemble and communicate. The situation in each shows how valuable the right to virtual assembly is to citizens.

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