U.S. Demands Internet Lifeline Abroad While Seeking Kill Switch At Home

It’s encouraging to see State work with private enterprise and NGOs to create alternative networks should authoritarian governments seek to shut down access and social media.

The State Department has been working furiously and mostly behind the scenes to cajole and pressure Arab governments to halt their clampdowns on communications and social media. In Tunisia there seem to have been real results. In Egypt, it’s too soon to tell.

Ever since the State Department intervened during protests by the Iranian Green movement in June 2009, convincing Twitter to postpone maintenance so opposition protestors could communicate, the U.S. government has been ramping up its worldwide effort to set up a network of organizations that could circumvent crackdowns on Internet and cell phone technologies by foreign governments. That effort faced its first two major tests over the last few weeks and the State Department has been working with private companies, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions to activate this network and put it to use in real time.

Wise policy. State clearly did its best to get ahead of curve. What a shame then that Congress and the Obama Administration continue to promote the infamous Internet kill switch bill here at home.

The news of Egypt’s crackdown on Web access is raising new concerns over a comprehensive cybersecurity bill that critics claim gives the president a “kill switch” for the Internet.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has recently indicated she plan to re-introduce the bipartisan legislation she crafted last year with Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), which passed the Senate Homeland Security Committee last year only to get mired in a standoff with Senate Commerce Committee members over which panel should have oversight of civilian cybersecurity.

Civil rights advocates such as the ACLU also raised concerns about the bill, which they claim gives the president the ability to shut down the Web in the event of a catastrophic cyber-attack. Specifically, observers are concerned the new version of the bill will reportedly not allow for judicial review when the administration shuts down a network under attack.