There has been a huge uproar lately over a Senate bill that will supposedly give the President an Internet "kill switch." And really, it's a terrible, nasty, evil idea.
It's also a myth. Or a paranoid delusion, take your pick.
This is an important, and complicated, issue. The bill in question is far from perfect, but it's also a long way from a totalitarian nightmare. Here are five reasons why people are up in arms over it -- and why they shouldn't be:
1) It gives the President drastic new powers to "turn off" the Internet. No, it doesn't. In fact, the real "kill switch" law has been on the books since the 1930s. If you want to worry about something, worry about that.
2) Civil liberties groups all oppose the bill. No, they don't. They do have some legitimate concerns about the bill. But many civil liberties and cyber-rights groups also recognize that this bill, or something like it, is necessary.
Don't take my word for it. In a letter sent to the bill's sponsors yesterday, the Center for Democracy & Technology described the bill as a "thoughtful, sophisticated, and comprehensive" effort based on an "open, collaborative process." Does that sound like the voice of impending doom to you?
3) The bill would take a Big Brother approach to Internet security. Actually, the bill gives the President the responsibility for declaring an emergency -- but not to tell the private sector how to respond. It's up to businesses or industry groups to decide upon the most appropriate action, within the context of a broad set of guidelines.
4) It's a sledge-hammer approach to a complicated issue. This is where the "kill switch" meme really drives me nuts. The President doesn't push a big red button; there's no hotline on his desk that will relay the "kill" order to ISPs and network operators around the country.
In a real emergency, as one congressional staffer puts it, companies could respond by doing things like deploying "a software patch, or a way to deny traffic from a certain country." In other words, the response will scale to fit the threat. A bigger threat might demand a bigger response, but that's just common sense, isn't it?
5) I don't trust politicians. Hey, join the club. But the beauty of a bill is that you can actually read it and decide for yourself. There's no secret language that will suddenly appear once it becomes law. Focus on the legislation, not the personalities, and you'll have a much easier time separating good policy from bad.
I've read it, and here's the bottom line: This bill actually does far more to take away the President's Internet "kill switch" than it does to give him one. And for enterprise IT organizations, this bill, or something like it, will do a lot more to protect their systems and infrastructure in a crisis than anything that's on the books today.
If you've got a problem with that, or anything else in the bill, fine. Just make sure you're dealing with the facts -- and not just a half-baked urban myth in the making.