Egypt throws snag in US Internet control bill

February 7, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The uprising in Egypt has thrown a snag into cyber security legislation on Capitol Hill. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security is proposing a bill that would give the federal government the power to shut down parts of the Internet during a state of emergency.

The timing on this has been problematic. Supporters of the bill reintroduced this bill a couple of weeks ago with the details still to be written.

The protests in Egypt and Hosni Mubarak's reaction in shutting down the Internet is causing some concern that a new bill, due to be proposed in the U.S. Congress this session, might give the president similar powers.

"We've seen in Egypt that that's a bad idea to give one person unilateral power to control how people in his or her country can communicate. And we don't want the president of the United States to have that and we don't want the leader of any country to have that," says Rebecca Jeschke from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation says it has joined with a couple of dozen groups in opposing the bill proposed by the Senate Committee for Homeland Security.

On Monday the two senators that head the committee, Sen. Joe Liebermann, D-Conn., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, issued a response saying in part, "We would never sign on to legislation that authorized the president or anyone else to shut down the Internet."

They point to what happened in Iran's nuclear facility last year when it was attacked with a computer virus and several centrifuges were shut down. Supporters of the bill say the government would have the extra cyber security powers only in extreme circumstances.

"There are scenarios where it's not outrageous to consider some government control of Internet traffic. However, those situations would have to be very tightly circumscribed," says Jeschke.

And that's what ABC7's political analyst is saying as well.

"It's got a shot, but it's going to have to very carefully explain itself and the conditions that are put on the presidential power are going to be very, very important," says professor Bruce Cain, Ph.D.

Cain says there's no question the events in Egypt are having an impact on the bill's chances. There is a lot of fear -- just ask Bruce Templeton, president and CEO of Silicon Valley Web Hosting and NephoScale, a cloud computing startup.

"I find it threatening and rather disturbing," says Templeton.

Templeton says he doesn't think the government needs the power to order him to shut down.

"I can guarantee you we'll be quicker to do something about it, we'll be quicker to get our customers back online when the coast is clear and we'll probably do it less expensive than the government," says Templeton.

Both senators, Collins and Lieberman, were unavailable for comment, but a somewhat agitated spokeswoman for their committee told ABC7 reporters should stop calling it the "kill switch bill" and stop with the references to Egypt. She says she's been swamped, proving once again that in politics timing isn't everything, but it is quite a lot.