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California State University East Bay

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The U.S. “Kill Switch” Violates Freedoms

Talk about dumb luck! A day prior to the nationwide Internet shutdown in Egypt, Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Tom Carper (D-Del.) announced how they want to give President Barack Obama control over the Internet, in the case of a “national cyber emergency.”

The legislation, first introduced to Congress in 2010, is said ‘to protect the U.S. from external cyber attacks” and is to prohibit any action being taken similar to Egypt’s Internet shutdown.

Despite that being said, depending on how bad a cyber emergency may be, so-called “mandatory” measures may need to be taken and that could include Internet disconnection from certain networks and websites.

That, along with the explicit new language written within the legislation, is where the controversial parallelism comes into play. The only difference between the proposed legislation and the “kill switch” in Egypt was that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak did it to prevent protestors from sharing what is going on in the revolution through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. The Internet was reinstated about a week later.

If the legislation called S.3480 (also dubbed the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act) passes, the United States will join at least one other Western government with a similar law.

What Egypt did was in violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has a right to express their own opinions and expressions without any interference from external forces.

However, what the three U.S. senators are hoping to get passed may be viewed as an expansion of the already existing 1934 law, the Federal Communications Commission, which says that if the case of the presence of “public peril or disaster or national emergency,” the president may “authorize the use or control of any such station or device.”

When looking into what this new legislation could allow the president to do, it is definitely a two-way street. It is what it appears to be, which is a non-judicial emergency power that lies under the control of the president.

At the same time though, it is possible for it to be viewed as a sugar-coated slice of dictatorship that is attempted to be passed in a country where we do not abide by such authoritative force.

In my eyes, this legislation doesn’t seem to be the right direction to go in. While its reasoning behind its possible actions the president could act on is respectable to a certain degree, there is also the possibility of it being inferior to our First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Having Obama stand in control over the most widely used form of communication is technically going against that right.

Not to mention that as we go further into the future, technology will continue to advance and without a doubt, the Internet will play a big role in that. If a cyber emergency ever comes our way and the president is forced to shut down the Internet for our country, imagine the additional technology he would also be shutting down. In this day and age, that is not exactly a good thing.

In addition, while it is arguable over whether or not this legislation is a form of dictatorship, what it can be confirmed as is a form of censorship. Already, China monitors their Internet and removes material they would otherwise find unsuitable in their country. To have something similar to that here, where our country is all about liberty and democracy, just doesn’t seem right.

It still remains to be seen as to whether or not Congress will consider taking votes on the legislation. Regardless of whatever happens, S.3480 is more than less likely going to remain debatable amongst senators and citizens alike.

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The U.S. “Kill Switch” Violates Freedoms