Senate bill proposes White House control of private sector telecommunications

Here is a reallllly good idea.

From CNET with my emphases and comments:

August 28, 2009 12:34 AM PDT
Bill would give president emergency control of Internet
by Declan McCullagh

Internet companies and civil liberties groups were alarmed this spring when a U.S. Senate bill proposed handing the White House the power to disconnect private-sector computers from the Internet.   [Get that?  "private-sector computers"]

["But Father! But Father!", you are saying.  "Who is behind that!"]  They’re not much happier about a revised version that aides to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, have spent months drafting behind closed doors. CNET News has obtained a copy of the 55-page draft of S.773 (excerpt), which still appears to permit the president to seize temporary control of private-sector networks during a so-called cybersecurity emergency[So… in the interest in national security…]

The new version would allow the president to "declare a cybersecurity emergency" relating to "non-governmental" computer networks and do what’s necessary to respond to the threat. Other sections of the proposal include a federal certification program for "cybersecurity professionals," and a requirement that certain computer systems and networks in the private sector be managed by people who have been awarded that license.

"I think the redraft, while improved, remains troubling due to its vagueness," said Larry Clinton, president of the Internet Security Alliance, which counts representatives of Verizon, Verisign, Nortel, and Carnegie Mellon University on its board. "It is unclear what authority Sen. Rockefeller thinks is necessary over the private sector. Unless this is clarified, we cannot properly analyze, let alone support the bill."

Representatives of other large Internet and telecommunications companies expressed concerns about the bill in a teleconference with Rockefeller’s aides this week, but were not immediately available for interviews on Thursday.

A spokesman for Rockefeller also declined to comment on the record Thursday, saying that many people were unavailable because of the summer recess. A Senate source familiar with the bill compared the president’s power to take control of portions of the Internet to what President Bush did when grounding all aircraft on Sept. 11, 2001. The source said that one primary concern was the electrical grid, and what would happen if it were attacked from a broadband connection.

When Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) introduced the original bill in April, they claimed it was vital to protect national cybersecurity. "We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs–from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records," Rockefeller said.

The Rockefeller proposal plays out against a broader concern in Washington, D.C., about the government’s role in cybersecurity. In May, President Obama acknowledged that the government is "not as prepared" as it should be to respond to disruptions and announced that a new cybersecurity coordinator position would be created inside the White House staff. Three months later, that post remains empty, one top cybersecurity aide has quit, and some wags have begun to wonder why a government that receives failing marks on cybersecurity should be trusted to instruct the private sector what to do.

Rockefeller‘s revised legislation seeks to reshuffle the way the federal government addresses the topic. It requires a "cybersecurity workforce plan" from every federal agency, a "dashboard" pilot project, measurements of hiring effectiveness, and the implementation of a "comprehensive national cybersecurity strategy" in six months–even though its mandatory legal review will take a year to complete.

The privacy implications of sweeping changes implemented before the legal review is finished worry Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. "As soon as you’re saying that the federal government is going to be exercising this kind of power over private networks, it’s going to be a really big issue," he says.

Probably the most controversial language begins in Section 201, which permits the president to "direct the national response to the cyber threat" if necessary for "the national defense and security." The White House is supposed to engage in "periodic mapping" of private networks deemed to be critical, and those companies "shall share" requested information with the federal government. ("Cyber" is defined as anything having to do with the Internet, telecommunications, computers, or computer networks.) [Great, huh?  Not really any limit.   Phones… TV satellites… just about anything.]

"The language has changed but it doesn’t contain any real additional limits," EFF’s Tien says. "It simply switches the more direct and obvious language they had originally to the more ambiguous (version)…The designation of what is a critical infrastructure system or network as far as I can tell has no specific process. There’s no provision for any administrative process or review. That’s where the problems seem to start. And then you have the amorphous powers that go along with it."

Translation: If your company is deemed "critical," a new set of regulations kick in involving who you can hire, what information you must disclose, and when the government would exercise control over your computers or network.

The Internet Security Alliance’s Clinton adds that his group is "supportive of increased federal involvement to enhance cyber security, but we believe that the wrong approach, as embodied in this bill as introduced, will be counterproductive both from an national economic and national secuity perspective."

Update at 3:14 p.m. PDT: I just talked to Jena Longo, deputy communications director for the Senate Commerce committee, on the phone. She sent me e-mail with this statement:

    The president of the United States has always had the constitutional authority, and duty, to protect the American people and direct the national response to any emergency that threatens the security and safety of the United States. The Rockefeller-Snowe Cybersecurity bill makes it clear that the president’s authority includes securing our national cyber infrastructure from attack. The section of the bill that addresses this issue, applies specifically to the national response to a severe attack or natural disaster. This particular legislative language is based on longstanding statutory authorities for wartime use of communications networks. To be very clear, the Rockefeller-Snowe bill will not empower a "government shutdown or takeover of the Internet" and any suggestion otherwise is misleading and false. The purpose of this language is to clarify how the president directs the public-private response to a crisis, secure our economy and safeguard our financial networks, protect the American people, their privacy and civil liberties, and coordinate the government’s response.

Unfortunately, I’m still waiting for an on-the-record answer to these four questions that I asked her colleague on Wednesday. I’ll let you know if and when I get a response.

I think we will be waiting as well.

And… may I say to the 17 national security agencies probably reading this blog, all I can say is… I’m really really sorry for everything I have ever written about President Obama or any Democrat, or anyone who knows a Democrat, or who has ever heard or read the word Democrat. 

I wish I had said it all better.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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37 Responses to Senate bill proposes White House control of private sector telecommunications

  1. TomB says:

    I’m sure those who so strenuously objected to the Patriot Act will soon be all over this. Not.

  2. Jack Hughes says:

    Sounds Fishy, whats next ? Obama will want us to bear his mark in order to buy and sell?

  3. moon1234 says:

    And so it begins. What’s next? Will we have cameras in our homes watching us like the British: http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/115736/Sin-bins-for-worst-families

  4. The Astronomer says:

    We citizenry are now the ‘sheep,’ and our Federal overseers….whoops, ‘shepherds’ now have guns. The guns are not to keep wolves away, mind you, but to keep the sheep in line. O.L. Fatima & St. Padre Pio, pray for us!!!

  5. Catherine says:

    Moon, I think we’re already there. My neighbor’s dog recently went missing, so she called her vet to see if anyone had reported finding him. (He had been implanted with the latest microchip.) They told her that the dog was on her property….they could tell that somehow through the transmission of the chip! She went outside to her backyard and saw the dog snagged on a fence post by its collar.

    I fully expect that we are facing microchip implantation in the near future….you know, for medical records and all that….
    Scary times.

  6. EXCHIEF says:

    Ah yes a cybersecurity emergency. That would be when too many bloggers and posters are critical of the Wun and his ego can’t take it. Why more people can’t see and/or won’t protest the nazi like policies of this ego-centric dictator of a president defies my imagination.

  7. JennyZ says:

    Makes me wonder, Jack…

  8. Papabile says:

    Father:

    If any security agencies “read” your blog, they simply data sampled it, with a word database generator. It then gets entered into a database that can be called upon as a resource down the road.

    I honestly doubt anyone from NSA, unless they are a faithful Catholic, has ever looked at this.

    With that said, the bill that is the subject of your post is DOA and will not pass through the House because the Committee Chairman things it “too weak”.

  9. gloriainexcelsis says:

    And I’m one of those who got unsolicited email from the White House – twice. So – guess I’m on whatever “list”. My bumper stickers alone make me a suspicious character – anti-abortion, one nation under God, NRA, Don’t Tread on Me. I proudly advertise. I get odd looks when I (78 year old great-grandmother) step out of or get into my car. I’m already suspicious when some political or religious article I try to forward freezes. The websites I access are obviously “dangerous.” Oops! Sorry, Father.

  10. nbt says:

    Oh come now, Dubya would have been on something like this like white on rice. These ideas are generated by the bureaucracy and bubble to the surface relentlessly. I can’t believe you think this is a partisan issue (not that I think it is a good idea or a violation of the 4th and 5th Amendments).

  11. TMA says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but news like this sounds more and more like a sci-fi story – maybe like an episode of Sliders or The Twilight Zone.

  12. Sandra_in_Severn says:

    Well add USAF OSI to your list Father of agencies reading this particular entry, I’ve shown several of these (blog entries on this topic) to my husband and asking him about it. He is a cyber-crime investigator (specialty is child porn, very happy when a pervert goes to jail)

    My husband has a different take on all this. He has also investigated counter-intelligence stuff when what first appears as just an criminal action, is actually espionage, and cyber-warfare. Lots of BAD stuff is coded in images/pictures people access and download from web sites. Mostly through porn sites. Another reason NOT to go to places that may lead you into occasion to sin.

    Personally I believe this is a dangerous slope, no matter WHICH political party is in power, but especially with the current Administration.

  13. Trevor says:

    If they’re taking these extraordinary measures to protect the Grid, then how about they do something else first: update it! The US Electrical Grid is in such bad shape, that a skilled hacker could shut down large portions of it by knocking out a small part (and that problem will only get worse the longer it isn’t maintained).

    So the government is going to spend a lot of money to prevent a problem at the cost of civil liberties, when it could be prevented by simply putting money into more modern technology. Yup, sounds like Washington.

  14. Virgil says:

    TomB gets it.

    This bill is simply Congress’s response to a program started under the Bush Administration, whereby the White House was given access to all our cell phones and internet connections. In 2007, the telecommunications companies, particularly Verizon, objected quite vocally to the requirement to compromise their customers’ privacy.

    Snowe’s bill and Rockefeller’s proposals are, in fact, codifying in law the LIMITS on the executive power. They are not giving any new powers that were not used by Bush/Cheney in their “war on terror.”

    Not sure why you are making this into a partisan discussion, Father Z. Snowe is Republican, Rockefeller is Democrat. Bush was Rep, Obama is Dem. Both the potential abuse of executive power, and Congress’s response are thoroughly non-partisan.

  15. Mark M says:

    Father,

    You remember that Father Elijah book? Well, the author wrote another series in which he charts, over the 20th Century, the Government becoming increasingly totalitarian, but hiding it under the guise of human rights, progressivism, our protection, etc. This proposed law seems like something right out of the Children of the Last Days series

  16. Traductora says:

    Snowe is a very liberal Republican who almost always votes with the Dems, so I don’t see that her involvement makes this non-partisan. Also, this is considerably broader than anything Bush wanted to do, all of which policies were directed at dealing with a specific, genuine threat that clearly existed at the time. Many terrorists were apprehended through tracking their international cell phone use. In addition, on a more immediate level, cell phones were often used as triggers for explosives, so there was a specific reason tracking their place of purchase and use, and even for being able to deactivate them before they could be used. Naturally, any extension of those powers has to be carefully watched. But in any case, Verizon was objecting on privacy grounds, not on the grounds of possible censorship or control.

    The groups that have been alarmed about the latest bill are not partisan groups but industry groups. The Obama administration is notoriously hostile to Internet or even radio use by anybody who disagrees with the government, which is why people who disagree with him politically are uneasy about this. This bill does not put any limits on the Government’s powers but in fact makes them, as the article stated, so amorphous that they can be defined any way that suits whoever is in charge. And since Obama’s tactic is to skip the normal system and instead assign the duties usually held by appointed, Congressionally and publicly scrutinized officials to mysterious “czars” loyal to (and often known to) him alone, I think there is very good reason to be concerned by this law.

  17. Bthompson says:

    Scratch a leftist, get a fascist…

  18. Gabriella says:

    Sounds like sci-fi to me!
    I’m still puzzled why here in Italy (in all Europe, I think) people admire Obama and his political line … wonder why?!

  19. I seem to recall that the Internet was invented so that we _could_ communicate in times of emergency, not so we _couldn’t_.

    The thing is, the guys who informally administer the Internet for us have been trusted to do it since the dawn of the Internet. They haven’t suddenly become the scum of the earth, or uninterested. They’ve dealt with a thousand thousand problems that the public never knew about — because they were solved. If the government was really interested in cybersecurity in case of emergency, they’d throw some funding to the various Internet Powers That Be and get the heck out of the way. Or even just ask nice, and throw them a challenge with a nice prize or bragging rights involved.

    But nooooo, can’t do it the way that’s worked just fine for forty years. Gotta take the power away from the people.

  20. I will add that the Internet could use some money thrown to it, for infrastructure improvement. Big report on that just came out. Companies are a little low on cash right now, and Internet use is heavier than ever before. If you gotta throw money at something, throwing it at the Internet commons would seem an obviously good thing.

    But nooooo. Don’t fix the road; put a moat through it.

  21. Sandy says:

    Someone above said, “Here it comes”, but that horse left the barn long ago! The frog in the cold water has reached the boiling point (almost?). So often I say that I have seen the “before and after”; we have drifted so far in my lifetime towards….what shall I call it…evil? It makes me so sad for this country, although I haven’t given up on the good people in this land. We may pull through yet.

  22. mvhcpa says:

    I agree with Suburbanbanshee. Back during the Clinton administration, I saw the way “society” was going, and I came up with the idea of what I termed “bunker Christianity.” Maybe we need to look at the example of the earliest Roman Christians and just go “underground” (figuratively if not literally). Maybe we need to solidify our own faith and just forget what is going on around us. Of course, this is what our enemies (those in power now) want, and it seems to fly in the face of the first half of St. Paul’s admonition to “Be in the world, but not of the world.”

    Does anyone have any thoughts about this?

    Michael Val

  23. Agnes says:

    I’m not a huge history buff, but… is this not how Hitler began tightening up on Germany? Not just, “It starts”, but it started some time ago and we’re now drawing close to harvest time.

    Mary Immaculate, pray for and protect our nation.

  24. Londiniensis says:

    “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” (Benjamin Franklin)

  25. Subvet says:

    A few commenters here and at other sites have made reference to the origins this thing had in the Bush era. It really doesn’t matter WHICH group originally pushed for this, it’s so subject to abuse it’s not funny. This sort of thing has happened before with the best of intentions, i.e. a piece of legislation is passed with the nation’s safety in mind only to later be utilized for nefarious purposes.

    The best example that comes immediately to mind are the gun laws under Hitler. All too many folks think he initiated them. Wrongo. They were implemented by the Weimar Republic to prevent the likes of Adolf coming to power. Once he DID take over he had the means to disarm his enemies in place.

    Pardon me all over the place for not getting to fired up about B.O., while he’s a real cause for concern he may not be the worst. I’m more worried about his successors. That applies to BOTH parties!

  26. “Comment by Subvet — 29 August 2009 @ 2:29 pm”

    There is much more truth to this than most people here want to admit. Perhaps some of them considered Bush the lesser of two evils because he was a Republican, or the more “conservative” of the two. The latter isn’t saying much. I wouldn’t put past the current administration a desire to expand the role of a central government. But two things come to mind. One is that it is a mistake, to think we got here because of one administration, as opposed to decades of straying from the vision of the Founding Fathers.

    The other thing is, if you think the government capable of pulling off anything of a massive scale against its citizens, remember that it took FEMA four days to get water to the Superdome.

  27. ssoldie says:

    Those who will not remember history, will relive it.

  28. It sounds to like we may have an “American Catholic Patriotic Association” coming soon the “worship center” near you and many martyrs soon to follow. I hope all of those idiots who voted for that ______ get what they have coming to them. Is this the “hope” & “change” that they wanted? I did not hear about a fascist oligarchy in the lies of the campaign season. Is this what the “Social Justice” committees in our parishes and Dioceses are really all about? We need to take a hard look at the leftist agenda in the Church and see if it is connected to all of this in some way. I bet it is.

  29. Jane says:

    This stuff looks like communism to me. Sister Lucia of Fatima said: That communism would take over every country in the world including America. (One country will be spared, that is Portugal).

    Start praying Rosaries to kick communism out and practice the Fatima messages. Austria did just this in 1955. The Soviets just packed up and left Austria.

  30. Jane says:

    Further to my previous comment about the communications control sounding like Communism, I thought up this little verse.

    Kick Communism Out,
    Show it the exit door.
    Destroy it with the Rosary
    And it shall be no more!

  31. Supertradmom says:

    0h brother…big brother, and we have only ourselves to blame…

  32. Mark M says:

    Michael:

    The problem is that in this day of such advance technology wouldn’t it be nigh impossible to actually cut oneself of from the ever-extending arm of the Government?

    Jane:

    Looks like Communism, but I heard an interesting term for it the other day:-
    “Velvet Fascism”.

    Pray everyone, pray.

  33. wmeyer says:

    So let’s see…

    All major dailies and the traditional television networks are basically fawning fans of the president. Imagine these steps:

    1. Disconnect all private computers form the Internet.
    2. Collect all licensed firearms.
    3. Repeal 22nd amendment.

    Or, if you’re really paranoid:
    3. Announce dictatorship.

    The future looks bleaker and bleaker.

  34. albizzi says:

    Fr Zuhlsdorf,
    Big Brother e-mailing (automatic message).
    We have your blog under investigation since months.
    There are a lot of sensitive issues which many suspect people are discussing here in non politically correct terms.
    We reserve ourselves the right to cut any access to this blog without preliminary warning in the case these uncivilities don’t cease immediately.
    We will let you know later which subjects you are allowed to post and in which acceptable terms they can be discussed.

  35. MenTaLguY says:

    Not a fan of the legislation. But I have to say it — even if we are talking existing powers, the worst-case scenario is not really any better.

  36. james says:

    I agree with Suburbanbanshee. Back during the Clinton administration, I saw the way “society” was going, and I came up with the idea of what I termed “bunker Christianity.” Maybe we need to look at the example of the earliest Roman Christians and just go “underground” (figuratively if not literally). Maybe we need to solidify our own faith and just forget what is going on around us. Of course, this is what our enemies (those in power now) want, and it seems to fly in the face of the first half of St. Paul’s admonition to “Be in the world, but not of the world.”

    Does anyone have any thoughts about this?
    _____________________________________________

    Read “Flee to the Fields”. Read Pope Leo’s Rerum Novarum.
    Read “Rural Solution” Read “The Church and the Land”
    by Fr. Vincent McNabb.

  37. JohnE says:

    How N.I.C.E.!
    (As I’m reading “That Hideous Strength” by C.S. Lewis)