Can Obama shut down the Internet?

posted at 12:17 pm on April 4, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

When Mother Jones and Jules Crittenden agree, isn’t that a sign of the apocalypse?  Both take a hard look at the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, S.773 sponsored by Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).  The bill addresses the need to protect vital networks from cyber attack, but it gives a lot of power to the executive branch — perhaps too much power.  Mother Jones reports:

The Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (PDF) gives the president the ability to “declare a cybersecurity emergency” and shut down or limit Internet traffic in any “critical” information network “in the interest of national security.” The bill does not define a critical information network or a cybersecurity emergency. That definition would be left to the president.

The bill does not only add to the power of the president. It also grants the Secretary of Commerce “access to all relevant data concerning [critical] networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access.” This means he or she can monitor or access any data on private or public networks without regard to privacy laws.

Jules adds:

You know, if it was the Bush administration, I’d be more inclined to trust them. They sought extraordinary wartime powers, and used them to prosecute the war on terror. Never abused them, though, despite all the squawking.

Jules wonders when the Leftosphere will erupt in outrage.   Mother Jones isn’t a bad start, though.

Here are the sections raising eyebrows:

SEC. 14. PUBLIC–PRIVATE CLEARINGHOUSE.

(a) DESIGNATION.—The Department of Commerce shall serve as the clearinghouse of cybersecurity threat and vulnerability information to Federal government and private sector owned critical infrastructure information systems and networks.

(b) FUNCTIONS.—The Secretary of Commerce—

(1) shall have access to all relevant data concerning such networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access; …

SEC. 18. CYBERSECURITY RESPONSIBILITIES AND AUTHORITY.

The President— …

(2) may declare a cybersecurity emergency and order the limitation or shutdown of Internet traffic to and from any compromised Federal government or United States critical infrastructure information system or network; …

The second provision is something less than advertised, I believe.  It gives the President the authority to disconnect federal networks from the Internet in the case of cyberattack.  That doesn’t seem like an outrageous provision to me; it sounds like a sensible option to protect vital government systems.  In fact, I’d be surprised if that power doesn’t already exist within the various federal agencies.  This would allow the President to make a blanket order to take networks off line.

That doesn’t make it completely benign, either.  That power could get abused to keep people from accessing public information.  However, the provision on its own does not equate to “shutting down the Internet”, at least not how I read it.

Section 14 may be a bigger problem.  It essentially revokes all privacy safeguards on Internet use for all networks.  The Fourth Amendment would go straight out the window with the explicit inclusion of “private sector owned critical infrastructure information systems and networks.”  While Section 18 limits jurisdiction to federal networks, Section 14 allows the government to go after private networks without search warrants.  The section also doesn’t limit the jurisdiction to acute attacks, either.  That jurisdiction exists at all times.

The big problem isn’t that Obama might shut down the Internet.  It’s that the bill essentially repeals the Fourth Amendment.

Update: Suitably Flip sees the Terminator on the horizon.

Update II: I used the word “repeals” for rhetorical effect, not as a literal meaning.  It takes a Constitutional amendment to repeal any part of the Constitution.  CSA’s Section 14 certainly appears to be an explicit violation of the Fourth Amendment.


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Western_Civ on April 4, 2009 at 1:32 PM

D.

Whether they physically have them at this point or not, is irrelevant. The govt possesses the legislation to get them – any time they want. I suspect that this is true for all nations, under one guise or another.

OldEnglish on April 4, 2009 at 8:17 PM

Until folk say no, Obama can do whatever he desires…he has already bankrupted us, seized private property and let his Congress make a lot of unconstitutional law.

Until the opposition gets off the radio and int the courts, he will continue to damage the country.

JIMV on April 4, 2009 at 8:21 PM

Obama can, and will shut down the Internet!
FIFY!

DannoJyd on April 4, 2009 at 8:34 PM

The BIG problem is it’s not just the fourth amendment with this crew. It’s most definately the tenth, and they’re probably hard at work on the first and second. After that it’ll be the fifth amendment. Is anyone going to do something about all these Constitutional violations? This is starting to really spin out of control. They are going right along with Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals”. Our country is literally dying, the Constitution means nothing to a Constitutional tutor/attorney who just happens to be Marxist….Is this really still America?????????

adamsmith on April 4, 2009 at 8:42 PM

I, as Jules stated would trust the Bush admin. more on this than Obamas. But once that Genie is out of the bottle, You will never be able to get it back in there.

portlandon on April 4, 2009 at 12:24 PM
If you’d trust an R with this, but not a D (or vice versa) it’s a simply an argument that it shouldn’t happen.

I’d make this point to liberals all the time too. Would you be comfortable with Bush/Cheney having this power?

lorien1973 on April 4, 2009 at 12:47 PM

I would Trust Bush/Cheney more than Obama/Biden. Would I be comfortable with it? Absolutely not. Not even close.

portlandon on April 4, 2009 at 8:48 PM

Obama can, and will shut down the Internet!
FIFY!

DannoJyd on April 4, 2009 at 8:34 PM

Obama wishes he could Control+Alt+Delete his first 65 days.

portlandon on April 4, 2009 at 8:49 PM

“And as Cisco continues to implement the Cisco OS, I would not be suprised if an agent is not place on routers as well.”

Considering that most Cisco gear is manufactured in China these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if you are correct but in a way that might surprise you.

crosspatch on April 4, 2009 at 8:50 PM

Ed, I put up an extended post on this topic. Did you decide it was spam?

unclesmrgol on April 4, 2009 at 9:26 PM

Obama wishes he could Control+Alt+Delete his first 65 days.

portlandon on April 4, 2009 at 8:49 PM

Please excuse me for disagreeing with you, but I’m fairly certain that this Arrogant POTUS considers all that he has done to be a huge success. While we see many of his moves to be a huge failure he sees them to be perfect. He will, in typical Bush fashion, even ignore his tumbling polling numbers.

We will never see any apology from him.

DannoJyd on April 4, 2009 at 9:57 PM

This is all about making the most use of the 9th Article in the Bill of Lefts.

9. Most laws are best written by judges and regulatory agencies, so it is best to make any legislation as vague and contradictory as possible.

Prediction — The Dem’s will withhold pushing this sort of stuff thru until they’ve got a liberal majority in the Supremes.

droofus on April 4, 2009 at 11:09 PM

Can Obama shut down the internet.

America gave blood and treasure to secure the liberation of 25 million people in a foreign land. It was America’s finest hour. Obama called it a distraction-and got away with it.

I know believe he can do anything – just as I believe the conduct of Jamie Gorelick will never be scrutinized.

Basilsbest on April 4, 2009 at 11:24 PM

And they worried about Bush…

rgranger on April 4, 2009 at 11:28 PM

It takes a Constitutional amendment to repeal any part of the Constitution.

What Constitution might that be… We are no longer America, we are now part of the new world order…

Badbrucskie on April 4, 2009 at 11:29 PM

dit, Da ….. dit, Da … dit, Da Dit, … dit ….. dit, dit, dit, dit, … Da Da Da … dit dit dit … dit … Da dit dit … dit Da dit Da dit Da

Kudos to anyone who can translate.

Chaz706 on April 4, 2009 at 3:09 PM

Near as I can remember:

A ARE HOSED R K

Been a while.

ThereGoesTheNeighborhood on April 4, 2009 at 11:54 PM

If they deny the self-declared enemy and its sanctified ideology, what good is having control over mere devices?

This is vacuous busywork of the most stupendously absurd kind.

(If they don’t know what they are filtering for, how can they filter anything but confusion?)

profitsbeard on April 5, 2009 at 2:46 AM

Well… it really depends on how it’s used. If we’re getting a major cyber attack then shutting the US off from the rest of the world’s network might be a really good idea at least until we can block the attack… that currently takes a few days (assuming tens of thousands of attacking computers).

If it’s used for any other purpose then it’s bad. But if it’s just to stop a Denial of Service attack or cut off the control to a botnet… then I’m cool with it.

Karmashock on April 5, 2009 at 3:34 AM

Compared to any quiet Sunday picnic of a security bill Bush assayed this is being ground zero to a Predator attack on our personal freedoms.

{^_^}

herself on April 5, 2009 at 4:43 AM

If it’s used for any other purpose then it’s bad. But if it’s just to stop a Denial of Service attack or cut off the control to a botnet… then I’m cool with it.

Karmashock on April 5, 2009 at 3:34 AM

Finally… someone that understands what the reason for this is. If the cops cruise your street and eyeball your yard and house to make sure everything is okay no one complains – if they see a suspicious character in the yard they may block off the area to investigate -no one complains. they only go in the house if there is probable cause or suspicion.
Yet if the internet security folks cruise the ethernet and look at the packets containing your info to make sure all is well and not a potential attack it becomes a breach of the 4th amendment and Ayn Rand rises from the dead. When the hack that takes down a major grid or water supply occurs and causes many problems people may be a little more willing to have their internet traffic monitored such as the police watch our neighborhoods.

Bradky on April 5, 2009 at 8:37 AM

Ho hum blah blah blah Captain Ed’s feverish mind conjures up another scary Obama conspiracy. What next week…Obama is an alien? How long before the internment camps? Sharia Law anyone? One World Order Ed and Glen Beck start a “resistance” movement? Obama…. the anti-christ?

athensboy on April 4, 2009 at 1:21 PM

Wow. You just created enough strawmen to populate a small town Latin American country.

soundingboard on April 5, 2009 at 12:35 PM

It takes a Constitutional amendment to repeal any part of the Constitution.

What Constitution might that be… We are no longer America, we are now part of the new world order…

Badbrucskie on April 4, 2009 at 11:29 PM

True, but it’s a lot easier just to ignore the Constitution.

Dr. ZhivBlago on April 5, 2009 at 5:14 PM

Obama wishes he could Control+Alt+Delete his first 65 days.

portlandon on April 4, 2009 at 8:49 PM

Hell, I wish he would do that to himself. :-)

-Dave

Dave R. on April 5, 2009 at 8:24 PM

They intend to go after everything they can get their little hands wrapped around! A year from now this nation may be unrecognizable!

JellyToast on April 6, 2009 at 12:07 AM

This bill is outrageous, dangerous and unconstitutional!!!!

This is no “war on terror”, this is war on the American Citizens via our Federal Government!!!

They do not need to invade our privacy to protect government computer systems form cyber threats…

Constitution1st on April 6, 2009 at 12:17 AM

Soon people are going to get wise to the Democrat strategy. They are using any pretense they can to grab government power over every aspect of our society. The left complained about the Patriot Act bitterly. But they stand by in mute silence while their folks destroy the underpinnings of freedom.

Hawthorne on April 6, 2009 at 2:11 AM

You know, if it was the Bush administration, I’d be more inclined to trust them. They sought extraordinary wartime powers, and used them to prosecute the war on terror. Never abused them, though, despite all the squawking.

Never mind that this is hopelessly wrong. Ignore the torture, the illegal spying, the illegal imprisonment of American citizens, and all the illegal expansions of executive branch power by Bush. The power you ceded to Bush was ceded to Obama. The power you give to (in your mind) the most benevolent of administrations, you give to the most harmful.

This proposed law is merely the next logical step following Bush’s 4th Amendment violations. The principle has been established that the executive branch can do anything, so long as it is vaguely protecting something related to national security.

Mark Jaquith on April 6, 2009 at 11:24 AM

Jules adds:

You know, if it was the Bush administration, I’d be more inclined to trust them. They sought extraordinary wartime powers, and used them to prosecute the war on terror. Never abused them, though, despite all the squawking.

Besides the fact that it’s ridiculous to say that the Bush admin never abused their power grabs, I dont get this logic at all.

Once one administration seizes power that it doesnt deserve, it sets a precedent that future administrations will also use.

I never understood why the Right was so willing to go along with the Bush/Cheney power grabs when it seemed so clear that they were setting up a future Democratic administration to use all the same tricks. If you’re not okay with Obama (or Hillary Clinton or any other Democratic politician) wielding particular powers, you shouldnt be okay with Bush / Cheney / McCain / Palin / Romney / Jindal / etc having them either.

And the same is true for the left. I wouldnt like it if a Republican president had this unconstitutional power, so I dont like it when Obama tries it either.

Jules Crittenden is explicitly saying that he believes in the rule of man over the rule of law. I say that if the law is no good (and I think this law is no good), then it doesnt matter which man is in power to use it.

orange on April 6, 2009 at 3:01 PM

I would really be interested to see a poll at what would be the tipping point for people who right now have zero, nada, zilch intention of taking up arms against this government to change their minds. I know what my tipping point is, though it’s way, way past what DHS says it is.

It’s just curiousity. Would it be if talk radio was shut down? Talk radio AND the “rightwing” Internet? Talk radio, Internet and coming for our guns? Attempts to limit free speech in churches? Legalization of 14 million people who broke the law to be here during 10%-plus unemployment?

Let me be clear that I personally still believe the only moral way to fix this is in the ballot box in November 2010, not with revolution. I’m in no way advocating it. I’m just wondering when people would consider that line crossed that changes their minds.

PastorJon on April 14, 2009 at 1:02 PM

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