Is Obama getting Web 'kill switch'?
Plan cites security to ramp up government control over Internet
By Michael Carl
Congress is proposing a tighter grip by the government on the Internet, with a new "Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010" that would, among other things, give the president a "kill switch" on the Web, critics charge.
Officials with Judicial Watch, a government-watchdog group that investigates and prosecutes government misbehavior, said the plan simply is "keeping with the big-government script" of the Obama administration.
The organization said the bill would grant the federal government "absolute power" to shut down Internet activity and allow the president to take it over in the name of "national security."
The proposal essentially would require broadband providers, search engines and software firms to "immediately comply with any emergency measure or action developed" within the Department of Homeland Security.
Punishment would await offenders.
Judicial Watch said the alarming plan would give the government the power to force private companies to participate in "information sharing" with the government and allow authorities to monitor the "security status" of private websites and others.
"Yet another new government agency (National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications) will be created to police the industry and any company that 'relies on' the Internet, the telephone system or any other component of the 'information infrastructure' will be subject to its command," the organization said.
"The new (National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications) will have no less than two deputy directors and liaison officers to the Defense, Justice and Commerce departments as well as the director of national intelligence."
Judicial Watch also said arming the president with an Internet "kill switch" easily could be misused to silence free speech "under the pretext of a national emergency."
There already is an organization set up to manage such situations and it includes personnel from the National Security Agency, Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and policymakers (politicians), according to a report from WND columnist Andrea Shea King.
The administration agency, dubbed CYBERCOM, is set up within the Department of Defense and reports it is both a defense and an offense in that it can engage in preemptive "strikes" intended to disrupt threats, she reported.
At a site called "Tech 1984 - Where Technology and Big Brother Collide," a commentator suggested: "Even though the primary purpose of CYBERCOM is to protect government and military networks, there is incredible pressure to extend that 'protection' to civilian and business networks as well. In fact, the second-highest official at the Pentagon, William Lynn III, deputy secretary of defense, recently announced that the Department of Defense might start a protective program for civilian networks. Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated the same thing in June 2009."
The new legislative proposal comes at the same time the Federal Communications Commission still is attempting to act on a policy called "net neutrality." CNET Networks reported in April that a federal court ruled that the FCC could not act on net neutrality, but the court decision hasn't stopped the push for that agenda as the FCC is still attempting to regulate the Internet using federal rules used to control phone lines.
A government systems analyst who publishes the Tech 1984 site and prefers to use the pseudonym Winston, a name borrowed from Winston Smith from George Orwell's "1984," said the newly activated Cyber Command was proposed last year by Defense Secretary William Gates as a means to protect the military's vast Internet network from attacks by outside or hostile forces.
"Winston" is a confidential source with connections to the cybersecurity industry.
Director Maj. Gen. Steven Smith said in a statement posted on the Army's site that the new agency will be responsible for defending Army information networks from threats around the globe.
"The mission for (the Cyber Command) is to direct the operation and defense of all Army networks, and, on order, conduct full-spectrum operations in support of our combatant commanders and coalition partners," Smith said.
Smith said the new unit will use existing Army and Defense resources and bring together parts of the 9th Signal Command, the First Information Operations Command and the Intelligence and Security Command.
However, Winston, the analyst, believes the new move will be aimed at civilian computer networks. Winston bases his assessment on a recent statement made by Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn.
"The best-laid defenses on military networks will matter little unless our civilian critical infrastructure is also protected. Critical infrastructure will certainly be targeted in a military conflict," Lynn stated.
"The Department of Homeland Security appropriately has the lead to protect the dot-gov and dot-mil domains. The Defense Department plays an important supporting role in this mission, and has direct responsibility for securing defense-industry networks," Lynn added.
The Defense Daily Network site lists corporations such as Northrop-Grumman, BAE Systems, Inc., and other private corporations as defense corporations that would likely come under the Cyber Command umbrella.
The newly operational status of the Cyber Command also is driving concern about the federal government's interest in taking control of the Internet. CNET News reported last August concern over a federal takeover of the Internet was fueled by the introduction of a Senate bill that would give President Obama the authority to take command of the system – or prevent private computers from having access.
The fury over possible federal control of the Internet has not abated, according to a report by Federal News Radio's Tom Temin and Amy Morris.
Temin and Norris say the bill proposed by Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Delaware Sen. Tom Carper would give the president authority to shut down the Internet in the event of a cyber attack. The shutdown actions would be done through the Department of Homeland Security.
Center for Strategic and International Technology scholar James Lewis said the bill is misguided.
"I've never understood this shut-down-the-internet stuff. It wouldn't be easy, may not be possible and in any case is not in our interest – we depend on it more than others," Lewis observed.
Lewis added there are legitimate concerns about securing the military Internet, but he sees no sign that the Cyber Command would have the authority to intervene in the civilian Internet.
"There is a capability to monitor and intercept malware, but so far there are no decisions or policies to let Cyber Command do this, either solo or in partnership with the Tier 1 service providers," Lewis said.
"Most Tier 1 providers already do some monitoring for (quality-of-service) purposes, but they don't work together and they don't work with Cyber Command or DHS. As a nation, we prefer a disaggregated point defense, even though it makes us vulnerable, as it offers some protections for civil liberties. Other countries will act differently and may get an advantage over us," Lewis explained.
WND reported in November 2009 that the National Security Agency is building two new facilities for storing all communications intercepts. The connection to the NSA is the basis for Winston's concerns.
"CYBERCOM is commanded by Gen. Keith B. Alexander who is also the head of the NSA. Alexander was promoted to general on May 21, 2010. The official purpose is: 'Plans, coordinates, integrates, synchronizes and conducts activities to: direct the operations and defense of specified Department of Defense information networks and; prepare to, and when directed, conduct full-spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all domains, ensure US/Allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same to our adversaries,'” Winston explained.
"The previous official responsible for cybersecurity in the United States, Rod Beckstrom, director of the National Cyber Security Center, resigned his post in protest over the fact that NSA had too much control and would not cooperate with (the center)," Winston detailed.
Winston said the new structure could be used to infringe on Americans' constitutional liberties.
"This would violate the 4th Amendment to our Constitution. Warrants arerequired to seize any private property. It can also be argued that this is a violation of the 4th Amendment’s provision against illegal searches as well. Warrants can only be obtained from a court or magistrate and would typically be the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court," Winston explained.
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