Slowly, slowly, a drip at a time, more details are emerging of the draconian powers that could be handed to the US President and various US government agencies under the terms of the proposed "amalgamated" Cybersecurity Bill that its supporters want to see passed into law before November's mid-term elections. Martyn Warwick reports.
Amongst a raft of contentious proposals are new ones that would allow not only the shutting-off of entire areas of the Internet for a minimum period of 90 days at a time and the blocking of content from overseas (as well as from and within the US), but that also would permit the complete closing down of companies, businesses, organisations and even industries that "fail to comply" with government orders following the imposition of a "national emergency".
Such a state of emergency could be declared and imposed by the President or federal agencies without Congressional oversight and with little, if any, explanation to the general population of the US.
The new draft bill combines two pieces of earlier proposed legislation, both originally tabled by Senators Lieberman and Rockefeller, and brings them together in unholy matrimony.
A Reuters reports, summarising the content of the new Bill states, "Industries, companies or portions of companies could be temporarily shut down, or be required to take other steps to address threats,” in the event of something like an “imminent threat to the US electrical grid or other critical infrastructure such as the water supply or financial network.”
The report adds, “The only protection afforded to companies under the new laws is that they would have to be defined as “critical” in order to come under government regulation, but since the government itself would decide to what companies this label applies, it’s hardly a comforting layer of security."
Ominously, the report concludes, “Even in the absence of an imminent threat, companies could still face government scrutiny."
The fact of the matter is that the cyber-threat to the US power grid, nuclear power stations or water supply is as overblown as was all the hysteria about an imminent land invasion by Japanese troops of the continental US in the weeks and months after Pearl Harbour.
The point is that anyone attempting to undertake such a technology-based attack would have to have direct personal and physical access to the high-tech systems that manage and police the systems, and these systems are not, never have been, and never will be part of the public Internet.
Unsurprisingly, given the amount of disinformation being pumped out by various interested parties, opponents are growing increasingly concerned that the inevitable "mission creep" that will follow the passing of the Bill into an Act that would allow a president and/or shadowy (and to all intents and purposes) unaccountable federal agencies to use the new powers as a tool of political and social repression.
After all, the overt and advertised purpose of the original Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative was to "secure and control" both public and private computer networks in the event of a "national emergency. As that national emergency is (deliberately?) so loosely defined as to be absolutely anything including confected crises that federal agencies might promote (or, perish the thought, even engender should their own narrow interests, powers or continued existence be threatened.
The plans are already in place for the creation of yet another layer of federal bureaucracy empowered by the clauses of a Bill that, passed into law in haste, would be repented at leisure by those millions who would find themselves subject to its authoritarian provisions.
There is to be an Office of Cyber Policy and a National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC). The NCCC would fall under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security but would have separate director to "enforce cybersecurity policies throughout the government and the private sector.”
All that can be hoped is that this Bill won't get through the legislative process before the November elections, and if, as expected, the composition of the House changes thereafter, its next iteration won't be as totalitarian as present proposals.
Otherwise we really could be on the way to saying. "Farewell then, the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave." For how would the US be any different to China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia or Zimbabwe as far as control of the Internet and the denial of freedom speech is concerned?
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