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January 29, 2011

Coincidence Of Timing Shows Problem With Bad Bill

As things have gotten more dicey in Egypt, one of the more interesting developments was this one.

President Hosni Mubarak hasn’t been able to stop the protesters who took to Egypt’s streets on Tuesday, so in the ensuing days, he’s attempted to stop them from communicating with each other and the outside world.

Several American sites–Twitter, YouTube, Hotmail and Google–as well as the Chinese search engine Baidu were blocked by Mubarak and the Egyptian government on Wednesday, Jan. 26. By Thursday night, Mubarak had shut off Internet access to most of Egypt and disrupted cell phone service. According to tech security blogger James Cowie, the Egyptian government made an “unprecedented” decision in interrupting Internet access.

“The Egyptian government appears to have ordered service providers to shut down all international connections to the Internet,” Cowie wrote. “Every Egyptian provider, every business, bank, Internet cafe, website, school, embassy, and government office that relied on the big four Egyptian ISPs for their Internet connectivity is now cut off from the rest of the world. Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt, Etisalat Misr, and all their customers and partners are, for the moment, off the air.”

But interestingly enough, there are those who want to give one man the power to do the exact same thing in the United States.

A controversial bill handing President Obama power over privately owned computer systems during a "national cyberemergency," and prohibiting any review by the court system, will return this year.

Internet companies should not be alarmed by the legislation, first introduced last summer by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), a Senate aide said last week.

Now I'm not going to go all crazy on folks, but just imagine the power for abuse that is inherent in this power. The bill does not define a "national cyberemergency" with any degree of specificity, and it specifically makes the unilateral determination of the executive unreviewable by any other body.

Sorry, that is power I don't want in any American leader's hands, my friends. It is antithetical to our entire Constitutional form of government, because it eliminates basic aspects of the system of checks and balances.

Is it really so far-fetched to imagine that, in the wake of an event like 9/11 (or even the attempted murder of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords), an unscrupulous occupant of the Oval office might find him or herself tempted to use that power to shut down political dissent? One does not need to imagine such an individual being a dictator -- think Johnson in 1968, Nixon in 1970 or 1973, Bill Clinton in 1999 -- to come up with scenarios where such power would have been ripe for abuse had the internet been as central to communications as it is today or as it promises to be in the future. And let's not get into the impact on the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment -- do we really want any leader given the authority to terminate them without review by the courts?





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