Killing the Internet 'Kill Switch' Myth

Matthew McKenzie, Editor in Chief / Community Leader | 6/28/2010 | 18 comments

Matthew McKenzie
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.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
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TechJunkieJP   Killing the Internet 'Kill Switch' Myth   7/4/2010 8:33:36 PM
read the Bill
Actually, the "kill switch" is not a myth, it is very real. You should take the time to read and UNDERSTAND the 197 page Bill before believing a silly site like snopes.com (they are often wrong in their 'debunking' attempts).
 
"In the original bill they empowered the president to essentially turn off the Internet in the case of a 'cyber-emergency,' which they didn't define," said Larry Clinton, president of the Internet Security Alliance, which represents the telecommunications industry. "We think it's a very bad idea ... to put in legislation," he told FOXNews.com.

TechAmerica warned that the legislation created “the potential for absolute power,” while the Center for Democracy and Technology worried that the bill’s emergency powers “include authority to shut down or limit internet traffic on private systems." Opposers feel that the bill is essentially giving the president the power to silence their freedom of speech, especially among journalists, and others whose jobs depend on these forms of communication. One US veteran stated, “It is against the constitution..period.”
PakMailFremont   Killing the Internet 'Kill Switch' Myth   6/30/2010 3:13:15 PM
Re: Internet blockage in Pakistan by government
Other countries have similar blocks on certain websites, but I'm pretty sure there are ways to get around them. Facebook will probably take a look at the issue if they end up losing a million users, but then again, they may not, they already have enough security issues to deal with right now...
Taimoor Zubair   Killing the Internet 'Kill Switch' Myth   6/29/2010 5:07:03 PM
Re: Internet blockage in Pakistan by government
The interesting point here was that the content was offensive to a large proportion of the population. The content was promoting religious hatred and ideally Facebook should have taken it down immidiately as per their poclicies. Since they did not play their role, many social groups and some part of the media wanted to ban Facebook just to put pressure on them. By banning the site in the country, the aim was to hurt their revenue since Pakistan has over a million Facebook users.
Zentropist   Killing the Internet 'Kill Switch' Myth   6/29/2010 3:48:01 PM
Re: Internet blockage in Pakistan by government
Taimoor,

The situation with censorship in Pakistan is hardly unique -- many countries around the world do their best to censor the content that the general populace has access to, or utilize state run media to deliver what might otherwise be termed propaganda, or as our Russian friends like to say, disinformatziya masquerading as fact-based reporting.

Even here in the U.S., many of our mainstream media outlets have pronounced right or left wing agendas and this skews their reporting of news -- investigative journalism is largely on life support save for some enterprising and responsible journalists that realize that without it, you become nothing but a tool of whoever is disseminating information if you can't be bothered to fact check or dig deeper for the "real truth." 

I tend to believe that the Internet has the potential to promote democracy -- because it's hard to control information once it hits the Net and starts gaining velocity. The unfortunate side effect is that anyone can post anything to the Internet, so there's a lot of content that is of dubious quality and accuracy that some will accept on face value because they either want to believe it, or lack the critical thinking ability to question the source. 

 

Z.
CMTucker   Killing the Internet 'Kill Switch' Myth   6/29/2010 11:08:17 AM
Re: Internet blockage in Pakistan by government
This is very true. It's a good analogy to healing...and I think stopping water from running down hill is only a temporary solution. Never permanent. The Streissand Effect is truly a wonder to behold, and good lesson for anyone involved w/ Marketing and PR.
Matthew McKenzie   Killing the Internet 'Kill Switch' Myth   6/29/2010 10:52:38 AM
Re: Internet blockage in Pakistan by government
The problem is that Pakistan's government walks a very fine line in how it caters to radical groups within the country. Ignoring them on these issues is a recipe for social unrest or even revolution. It's a messy response to a dangerous situation. Without getting bogged down in politics here, I think it's safe to say that it's a very difficult problem.

On the other hand, people who really want to work around online censorship have the upper hand. Proxies change all the time, and information gets passed around indirectly. And we're all familiar with the Streisand Effect by now.
CMTucker   Killing the Internet 'Kill Switch' Myth   6/29/2010 9:19:02 AM
Re: Internet blockage in Pakistan by government
You have to understand that most of us see this through the traditional  Western assumption of free speech as a human right. And, as a westerner, I have to agree.

It's been part of the US' history since its inception. Though there can be some scary things about openly discussing all viewpoints, and it can offend some people. It's probably better for everyone if nothing is taboo to talk about. That causes division; tribal, religious and nationalist ferver, It promotes an "us vs. them" status quo because if you are not of them, you have no right to criticize them. That's just not how things work.

Everything is fair game. If you are right in your particular religious beliefs, then it'll take care of itself.

What I don't understand is why religious people who base their reward/punishment on a all-deciding diety feel the need to do it themselves. Does not the big three religions follow the mantra "judge not lest ye be judged"?

It would seem that another's conduct determines their own fate and for the most part should be their choice.

 
Taimoor Zubair   Killing the Internet 'Kill Switch' Myth   6/29/2010 2:30:49 AM
Re: Internet blockage in Pakistan by government
Someone had created a Facebook fan page which was very offensive and disturbing to the religious beliefs of most people in Pakistan. The government, in an attempt to put pressure on Facebook, had blocked this website. Other websites were also blocked because they were promoting this content.
PakMailFremont   Killing the Internet 'Kill Switch' Myth   6/28/2010 7:10:34 PM
Re: Internet blockage in Pakistan by government
Why were these sites banned? Was it a internet decency issue or was it more to do with the sharing of information?
Taimoor Zubair   Killing the Internet 'Kill Switch' Myth   6/28/2010 4:38:36 PM
Internet blockage in Pakistan by government
Just recently the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (a body run under the government of Pakistan) had put a ban on over 500 websites for over a week which included Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Wikipedia, CNN, BBC and a number of other social networking and public websites. The ban was also on proxy websites which the people were using to access the blocked websites. We had enjoyed several years of cyber freedom and to have such restriction was certainly a reason to panic. This incident just made me realize how much power the government holds. It may not be true for other countries, but, despite having a democratic government in Pakistan, the government still has the authority to block any website at anytime throughout the country and all ISPs have to comply with it. I guess true freedom only exists in books.
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