Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Chimera of the Internet

So imagine the scenario, ten years down the road, where ALL communications (email, voice, data) gets lumped under "the internet", and one day the President decides there is a "crisis" (maybe after a terrorist attack, maybe not), and orders it shut down, or orders filtering of all communications that involves certain keywords (which they can automatically detect, even for voice calls).

Imagine the airline shutdown after 9/11 to grasp this: for 4 days, they only way you could get anywhere was driving. (I know -- I had to drive back to Denver from L.A.)

But imagine it taken a step further:  suppose they shut down ALL the roads.  Or perhaps, just all the major roads.  What happens?  People drive, but start taking the back roads.  They need food, at least.  But if the government has made it a crime to do this without "authorization"?    You'd better have your domestic travel papers.

Same for communications -- don't attempt an unauthorized call.  Better have that special access code, because otherwise, you get the automated message, "We are sorry, but you do not have authorization to make this call.  Goodbye!".

But before we get to that point, imagine the first few days after the "crisis" is announced:  You're sitting at home.  Your phone doesn't work, except for "911".  Your internet doesn't work. You've got no communications for anything except the TV signal coming in -- with government approved content ("The Brady Bunch" and "Gilligan's Island").   You still have U.S. mail.  Unless mail censors are screening every letter (probably part of a full employment plan.) You can still drive.  Unless the newly hired cops are checking your travel permits.

How do you make your voice heard to oppose the new government policy?   How do you get the word out that it's a sham, rationalized on "national security" grounds?   (Anything can be rationalized on "national security" grounds, even a financial crisis -- see

Maybe you try to use some form of shortwave or other wireless communications -- but the government is monitering it.  They quickly find you with a directional antenna.

Maybe people raise bloody hell -- that's when the "communications permits" come into being.

I could project this out ad infinitum.

The point is, everyone talks about the liberating effect of the internet that makes it impossible for the government to suppress dissenting voices.  The truth is, those dissenting voices can be stopped very easily, depending only on the will of those in power and whatever rule of law is left.   (Most traffic goes through very few portals, the major telcos, which have long been de facto nationalized in the sense that they will do anything the government demands.)  I don't say we are there yet where this would be attempted -- I'm simply saying: if we get there, it can happen.

Obama Internet kill switch plan approved by US Senate

President could get power to turn off Internet

By Grant Gross
Published: 11:02 GMT, 25 June 10

A US Senate committee has approved a wide-ranging cybersecurity bill that some critics have suggested would give the US president the authority to shut down parts of the Internet during a cyberattack.

Senator Joe Lieberman and other bill sponsors have refuted the charges that the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act gives the president an Internet "kill switch." Instead, the bill puts limits on the powers the president already has to cause "the closing of any facility or stations for wire communication" in a time of war, as described in the Communications Act of 1934, they said in a breakdown of the bill <>  published on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee website.

The committee unanimously approved an amended version of the legislation by voice vote Thursday, a committee spokeswoman said. The bill next moves to the Senate floor for a vote, which has not yet been scheduled.

The bill, introduced earlier this month, would establish a White House Office for Cyberspace Policy and a National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications, which would work with private US companies to create cybersecurity requirements for the electrical grid, telecommunications networks and other critical infrastructure.

The bill also would allow the US president to take emergency actions to protect critical parts of the Internet, including ordering owners of critical infrastructure to implement emergency response plans, during a cyber-emergency. The president would need congressional approval to extend a national cyber-emergency beyond 120 days under an amendment to the legislation approved by the committee.

The legislation would give the US Department of Homeland Security authority that it does not now have to respond to cyber-attacks, Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, said earlier this month.

"Our responsibility for cyber defence goes well beyond the public sector because so much of cyberspace is owned and operated by the private sector," he said. "The Department of Homeland Security has actually shown that vulnerabilities in key private sector networks like utilities and communications could bring our economy down for a period of time if attacked or commandeered by a foreign power or cyber terrorists."

Other sponsors of the bill are Senators Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat.

One critic said Thursday that the bill will hurt the nation's security, not help it. Security products operate in a competitive market that works best without heavy government intervention, said Wayne Crews, vice president for policy and director of technology studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an anti-regulation think tank.

"Policymakers should reject such proposals to centralize cyber security risk management," Crews said in an e-mail. "The Internet that will evolve if government can resort to a 'kill switch' will be vastly different from, and inferior to, the safer one that will emerge otherwise."

Cybersecurity technologies and services thrive on competition, he added. "The unmistakable tenor of the cybersecurity discussion today is that of government steering while the market rows," he said. "To be sure, law enforcement has a crucial role in punishing intrusions on private networks and infrastructure. But government must coexist with, rather than crowd out, private sector security technologies."

On Wednesday, 24 privacy and civil liberties groups sent a letter <>  raising concerns about the legislation to the sponsors. The bill gives the new National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications "significant authority" over critical infrastructure, but doesn't define what critical infrastructure is covered, the letter said.

Without a definition of critical infrastructure there are concerns that "it includes elements of the Internet that Americans rely on every day to engage in free speech and to access information," said the letter, signed by the Center for Democracy and Technology, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups.

"Changes are needed to ensure that cybersecurity measures do not unnecessarily infringe on free speech, privacy, and other civil liberties interests," the letter added.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments must be polite and well-reasoned, but passion is allowed when directed at the subject matter and not someone who posts -- violate this, and your comment doesn't get posted. Comments may not post immediately -- I'm pretty busy and don't live on the web.