US President Obama has been given new powers to shut down large parts of the internet if there is a “national emergency”, reports TechRadar.
A US Senate committee has approved new legislation entitled Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, an update of the 1934 Communications Act. The title alone suggests that the US government considers the internet to be part of its property, which is enough to rile up a considerable number of people, including foreign governments.
The US President, under current law, already has the power to take over communications networks, but this new “kill switch” creates worrying potential for abuse. It begs the question if one man should have the authority and power to shut down large parts of the internet, even if it were only employed in the most exceptional of circumstances.
The Senate has tried to downplay these concerns by saying that “only specific systems or assets whose disruption would cause a national or regional catastrophe would be subject to the bill’s mandatory security requirements.” What qualifies for that, however, has not been revealed, which means the US government could technically argue that anything it wants falls under its broad definition of disruption and national catastrophe.
The new bill also gives Obama additional powers over power grids and telecommunications networks. These powers follow in the footsteps of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s report earlier this month that the American power grids are at risk of cyber attack.
Next time a website you’re visiting is down, Obama may have flicked the switch. We can’t confirm or deny that the Twitter Fail Whale is his responsibility.