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Could Egypt Happen Here? Obama's Internet "Kill Switch"

Egypt pulled the plug on the Internet. A Senate bill would give Obama the power to do the same—or something like it.

Egypt unrest in Cairo

First it was Facebook. Then it was Twitter. Now, in the face of massive protests in the streets of Cairo and throughout the country, Egypt has pulled the plug on the entire Internet for its citizens. As this chart from Arbor networks shows, Internet traffic mounted steadily in Egypt steadily over several days, then suddenly and precipitously dropped to nil at 5:20 PM EST yesterday.

The U.S. has condemned the move—in a tweet, no less.

Such a flagrant violation of communications—possible only in the less free corners of the world, right? But since last summer, when a Senate bill was introduced by Joe Lieberman, the U.S. has been considering an Internet "kill switch" of its own. Full text of the bill, "Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset," can be found here. "For all of its 'user-friendly' allure, the Internet can also be a dangerous place with electronic pipelines that run directly into everything from our personal bank accounts to key infrastructure to government and industrial secrets," Lieberman said in June.

As recently as three days ago, CNET reported on a "renewed push" to implement the bill. Plenty of people criticized the first version of the bill, but the latest version has raised even more red flags. The revision bans judicial review over executive decrees. "The country we're seeking to protect is a country that respects the right of any individual to have their day in court," Steve DelBianco of the NetChoice coalition told CNET. "Yet this bill would deny that day in court to the owner of infrastructure."

Now, the purpose of the bill is not, of course, to allow the president to undermine the freedom of speech, or to limit the ability of people to protest. The bill (which doesn't use the term "kill switch" itself) is in the name of cybersecurity, and allows the president to declare a state of national cyberemergency. The legislation calls for the establishment of a "list of systems or assets that constitute critical infrastructure." Homeland Security would only add systems to the list if 1) disruption of the system could cause "severe economic consequences," 2) the system is "a component of the national information infrastructure," and 3) the "national information infrastructure is essential to the reliable operation of the system."

It's a bill that has worried proponents of free business more than proponents of a free society., for instance, calls the measure a "kill switch for capitalism."

Few people are likely lighting fires to police vans in Egypt to protest a threat to corporations' bottom lines. For some of the best live coverage of events as they unfold in Egypt, check out this stream at Al Jazeera English.

Read more of our coverage on the protests in Egypt.

[Top image: Al Jazeera English]

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  • Cameron Wyman

    We need a highly
    organized and sustainable National Reform Movement.

    It is time to reform our governance to a comprehensively
    designed ethical governance system (CEGS) it's our only hope for our
    future.  A CEGS will include the best of
    current, democratic governance, economic, and social systems, while introducing
    new ideas to replace the government corruption and oppression of the people.

    It’s time to roll up our sleeves and clean this mess up.

    These systems of corruption must be reformed out of existence
    for the safety of mankind.

  • DocuMaker

    I don't know what possessed you to phrase the title of this story the way you did. Now we're going to hear Sarah Palin's rant about how the pyramids destroyed Egypt and will do the same to us unless we send Pharaoh to space (from her house) on a reduced budget for gun rights and abstinence. Thanks a lot, FastCompany! >:-[

  • frankz00

    From the article: "Now, the purpose of the bill is not, of course, to allow the president to undermine the freedom of speech, or to limit the ability of people to protest."

    AHHHH HA HA HA HA!!! Yeah sure... The thought of this NEVER crossed their mind! Ever heard of WikiLeaks? This is the government's WET DREAM and they WILL ABSOLUTELY use it once they have it!

    Are you kidding me?!?!?