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On the internet, what's bad for Mubarak is good for Obama

Glenn Garvin writes in the Miami Herald:

Virtually at the same moment Obama was demanding that Egypt stop monkeying with Facebook and Twitter, Maine's imitation-Republican Sen. Susan Collins announced that she plans to reintroduce a bill that died in Congress last year. Collins gave the bill a smiley-face name, the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act. Internet geeks, about the only people who've noticed what the government is up to, prefer to call it the Kill-Switch Bill, because that's what it would do: Give the president the authority to turn off the Internet whenever he pleases.

The bill (assuming Collins follows through on her announced plan to keep it substantially the same as the one she sponsored previously) would give the president the right to declare "a national cyber emergency" and seize authority over any part of the Internet he decides is "vital" to the "economic security, public health or safety of the United States, any state, or any local government." And just in case that's not broad enough, the bill also allows him to snatch anything the White House deems "appropriate."

What could go wrong?

... Collins gets mighty miffed if anybody mentions her bill in the same breath as Egypt. "The steps the Mubarak government took last week to shut down Internet communications in Egypt were, and are, totally wrong," she told reporters. "His actions were clearly designed to limit internal criticisms of his government." President Obama, on the other hand, is a nice guy, so we don't have to worry about it.

But the arguments in favor of the bill put forth by Collins' allies were not entirely reassuring. A staffer on the Senate's Homeland Security committee, for instance, said the bill was necessary in case the White House learned of a cyberattack on "the system that controls the floodgates to the Hoover Dam." That sounds reasonable, unless you know that (1) the Hoover Dam is operated by a government agency, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, so the White House doesn't need any additional authority to protect it, and (2) the computers that control the dam's floodgates aren't connected to the Internet. Then it sounds like a power grab.

Which, when you think about it, is what just about any system that claims to be secure should be doing, eh?

Even more ominous was an interview given last year by Collins' supporter, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. "We need the capacity for the president to say, Internet Service Provider, we've got to disconnect the American Internet from all traffic coming in from another foreign country," Lieberman told CNN. "Right now, China, the government, can disconnect parts of its Internet in a case of war. We need to have that here, too."

China? China is now our model for balancing civil liberties and national security? China, which has erected what the cyberworld calls the Great Firewall to block Facebook, Twitter and YouTube? What's next? Taking economic advice from North Korea? Looking to Saudi Arabia for leadership on women's suffrage? ...

Of course, Obama doesn't really need this bill, even assuming the rule of law in this country applied to the elite. To shut down the Internet, all Obama's got to do is collect the quid on the quid pro quo for granting the telcos retroactive immunity when they committed all those felonies for warrantless surveillance because Bush asked them to. Anyhow, it's stupid to shut down the Internet. Leave it go, and then tap it, which we're doing already. Ten to one that's why the administration wanted the Egyptian Internet back up.

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