In Case of Emergency, Should the White House Control the Internet?

By  |  Friday, August 28, 2009 at 11:38 am

Obama shuts off InternetCnet’s Declan McCullagh has a good story up on a Senate Bill sponsored by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) which would give the White House the power to disconnect private computers from the Internet in the case of a cyberemergency. McCullagh says that the bill, a revised version of one floated last spring, remains troubling to Internet and telecommunications companies and civil liberties groups, who say the the new version remains vague about the powers it grants.

Let’s take a T-Poll on it–and just to remove politics from the issue (and despite my silly piece of art), let’s make this question about a fictional President of the United States of unspecified political party, not the guy who happens to be there right this very minute…



13 Comments For This Post

  1. NanoGeek Says:

    This is probably a silly question, but how do you go about taking control of the internet? The internet is international, and therefore cannot be controled by one country. I assume this bill means the U.S. Internet.

    Still, even if they did take control, what would they do? I’m guessing that most cyberattacks would come from outside the U.S., so controling every American website and ISP wouldn’t do much good. Why not just cut the connection to comming in to the U.S.? Why do politicians feel they need to control everything?

  2. Peggy Says:

    To say that the Internet is international is a bit misleading. Most of the top level domains are on US servers and the US could easily take down most of the infrastructure in no time. I mean, we DID build it.

    Besides, taking down “the Internet” would shut down most industries. Could they, perhaps, be referring to just the Web?

  3. Matt Says:

    You see, the internet is a series of tubes… that’s why they can shut it off. Just ask Ted Stevens (I’m a conservative and I freely make fun of this one). It is in fact a quote, not a respresentation, and he did in fact say this in 2006!

    “I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o’clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why?
    Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet commercially…

    They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet. And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on. It’s not a truck.

    It’s a series of tubes.

    And if you don’t understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material. “

  4. Mike Cerm Says:

    I feel that giving anyone such power would have limited up-side, and the potential for abuse would be tremendous. We just had an administration that manipulated intelligence and lied about terror-threats for political purposes (as confirmed by Tom Ridge). Giving corrupt administrations more tools with which to manipulate and terrorize Americans is not something that we should consider.

  5. NanoGeek Says:


    You’re right, the United States does hold most of the more important domains.

    Re-reading the article, it says that this bill will allow the White House to disconnect private computers from the internet in case of emergency. I still don’t get though what disconnecting every computer accomplish. The government should of course be able to shut down their computers if the need arises, but why do they need to control ours as well?

  6. Seumas Says:

    I still don’t understand the justification for this. The military may have originally developed the internet (ARPAnet) but it does not use the same internet the rest of us do and neither should most non-public-facing government agencies, so there’s really no justification for anyone to control any of it in any form of emergency.

    Not to mention, this is a TERRIBLE idea on a civil liberty level. What if we start defining an “emergency” the same way China or Iran do? In this age, a people without a communication line to the rest of the planet is an oppressed people with truly no recourse.

  7. Seumas Says:

    Peggy, it doesn’t really matter what domains are owned within the US. If the citizens need to get a message out about what is going on inside our country to the rest of the world, it’s not really relevant whether we can get to google or, as long as we can still actually reach other people other places.

  8. Evan Kline Says:

    I can see the need, but this is one of those where the cost is just too high. We’d also be very safe if we had to register our whereabouts with the government at all times, but nobody is going to agree to that.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    I absolutely, without reserve, and literally can not believe how blase you’re all being about this.

  10. NanoGeek Says:


    What do you mean? Can you give us more detail?

  11. Anonymous Says:

    The federal government has no authority, and is in fact specifically prohibited from such acts. The fact no one bothers to notice only supports the supposition that no one thinks the government is prohibited from anything.

  12. NanoGeek Says:

    I actually do oppose federal control strongly. I would prefer a much smaller government. However, I don’t believe that a bill like this has much of a chance. Hence my (and I assume our) lack of excitment.

    If this bill does go through, then I’ll get upset.

  13. JDoors Says:

    After reading some of the provisional language in the bill, I retract my “Whatever they need to do” vote. The power it gives the government, in its current form, is absolutely frightening (eg., they have given themselves absolute authority over ANY other laws).

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