Obama Internet kill switch plan approved by US Senate

President could get power to turn off Internet

By Grant Gross

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.

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FTC floats Drudge tax

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is seeking ways to “reinvent” journalism, and that’s a cause for concern. According to a May 24 draft proposal, the agency thinks government should be at the center of a media overhaul. The bureaucracy sees it as a problem that the Internet has introduced a wealth of information options to consumers, forcing media companies to adapt and experiment to meet changing market needs. FTC’s policy staff fears this new reality.

“There are reasons for concern that experimentation may not produce a robust and sustainable business model for commercial journalism,” the report states. With no faith that the market will work things out for the better, government thinks it must come to the rescue.

The ideas being batted around to save the industry share a common theme: They are designed to empower bureaucrats, not consumers. For instance, one proposal would, “Allow news organizations to agree jointly on a mechanism to require news aggregators and others to pay for the use of online content, perhaps through the use of copyright licenses.”

In other words, government policy would encourage a tax on websites like the Drudge Report, a must-read source for the news links of the day, so that the agency can redistribute the funds collected to various newspapers. Such a tax would hit other news aggregators, such as Digg, Fark and Reddit, which not only gather links, but provide a forum for a lively and entertaining discussion of the issues raised by the stories. Fostering a robust public-policy debate, not saving a particular business model, should be the goal of journalism in the first place.

The report also discusses the possibility of offering tax exemptions to news organizations, establishing an AmeriCorps for reporters and creating a national fund for local news organizations. The money for those benefits would come from a suite of new taxes. A 5 percent tax on consumer electronic devices such as iPads, Kindles and laptops that let consumers read the news could be used to encourage people to keep reading the dead-tree version of the news. Other taxes might be levied on the radio and television spectrum, advertising and cell phones.

The conflict of interest in having the government pay or contribute to a newsman’s salary could not be more obvious. Reporters and columnists would have little incentive to offer critical analyses of tax increases that might mean a boost in the pocketbook. Once Congress has the power to fund the news, it can at any time attach “strings” designed to promote certain viewpoints – in the name of fairness, of course. Each year at budget time, the Fourth Estate would scramble to be worthy in the eyes of Capitol Hill for increased support. It is hardly a surprise that the heavily subsidized National Public Radio frequently presents issues in a way favorable to Washington’s tax-and-spend agenda.

Self-respecting journalists must reject this tempting government bribe as the FTC brings its proposals to a round-table discussion scheduled for June 15. When it comes to the media, consumers lose most when government suppresses innovation in the name of “saving” old business models.

From the Washington Times

Obama and the FTC Plan to Take Over The News Industry and Destroy Free Speech

By: Mark Tapscott

Release of the Federal Trade Commission’s working paper on “reinventing journalism” makes it clear that there is no more time for diplomacy about this issue: Barack Obama is determined to federalize the news industry just as he has banking, autos, and health care.

Everybody who wants independent journalism had better wake up to these three facts about what is going on right now:

* Journalists must understand that there is no way the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press will survive if the federal government regulates the news industry. Those who accept at face value protests to the contrary or the professions of pure intentions by advocates of government takeover of the news business are, at best, incredibly naive.

* Journalists who remain silent or apathetic about what is being prepared for their profession become unintentional accessories in the strangulation of independent journalism.

* Journalists who support or assist, for any reason, the FTC process are accomplices in the strangulation of independent journalism.

Those in the administration who clearly view independent journalism as an obstacle to “change we can believe in” and their numerous allies in the old media, non-profit activists, and academic community who either share a similar ideological vision or see the FTC process as their salvation against the Internet will no doubt dismiss my assertions as extemism or alarmism.

Fine, call me whatever, but what they cannot deny is what is written in the FTC document and what it clearly tells us about the intention behind the initiative, which is to transform the news industry from an information product collected by private individuals and entrepreneurs as a service to buyers to a government-regulated utility providing a “public good,” as defined by government.

The authors hide this dangerous intention behind expressions of concern for preserving quality journalism and “addressing emerging gaps in reporting and they rationalize their approach of massive government intervention in the news process as simply an extension of what government has always done.

Jeff Jarvis, a veteran of the old media and a pioneer of the Internet-based new media with his Buzz Machine blog, provides a thorough analysis of what the FTC is considering and explicates the dangerous consequences that will follow. He summarizes those recommendations as:

“Antitrust exemptions. The FTC looks at allowing news organizations to collude to set prices to consumers and with aggregators. Isn’t that the precise opposite of what an agency charged with protecting competition for the benefit of customers should be considering? Shouldn’t the FTC recoil in horror at such sanctioned antitrust to protect incumbents’ price advantages? Not here.

“Government subsidies. After saluting the history of government subsidies for the press — namely, postal discounts, legal notice publication, assorted tax breaks, and funds for public broadcasting — the agency looks at other ideas: a journalism AmeriCorps paying journalists; increased funding for public broadcasting; a national fund for local news suggested in Columbia’s report on journalism; a tax credit for employing journalists; citizen news vouchers (a la campaign checkoff); grants to universities for reporting. It also looks at increasing the present postal subsidy (which would only further bankrupt the dying postal service in the service of dying publications); using Voice of America and Radio Free Europe content (aka propaganda) in the U.S.; and enabling the SBA to help nonprofits.

“Taxes. At least the FTC acknowledges that somebody’d have to pay for all this. In one section, the FTC looks at licensing the news: having ISPs levy a fee on us that the government then dolls out to its selected news purveyors — call that the internet tax. It’snothing but a tax and it would support incumbents surely. In another section, it examines the aforementioned iPad tax; a tax on the broadcast spectrum; a spectrum auction tax; a tax on ISPs and cell phones; and a tax on advertising (brilliant: taking a cut of the last support of news in America).

“New tax status. The document spends much space looking at ways to make journalism a tax-exempt activity and suggests the IRS should change its regulations to enable that. It also looks at changing tax law to enable hybrid corporations (“benefit” and “flexible purpose” corporations that can judge success on serving a mission and not just maximizing profits) as well as L3Cs.

“Finally, the document looks at the one thing that should be in its purview as a government agency: getting government to make its information open and accessible to view and analyze. Well, amen to that.”

If that menu doesn’t scare the hell out of every true journalist in America, perhaps this graph from Jarvis will:

“What disturbs me most in this section is that the FTC frets about ‘difficult line-drawing being proprietary facts and those in the public domain.’ Proprietary facts? Is it starting down a road of trying to enable someone to own a fact the way the patent office lets someone own a method or our DNA? Good God, that’s dangerous.”

You got that right, Jeff, but that’s exactly what these people intend to do – put government in position to define who gets to report what and how.

Conservative journalists will do well not to role their eyes impatiently with liberal colleagues who don’t understand that government always expands its control over any activity it either funds or regulates, and therefore must be limited at every level to well-defined, narrowly circumscribed powers that only it can fulfill, as was done by the U.S. Constitution.

Better to explain once again that the original intention of the Founders with respect to the media – “Congress shall make no law respecting … the freedom of the press” – is the key to saving independent journalism today.

And remind them that the adversarial relationship that is supposed to exist between journalists and public officials must apply no matter who those public officials might be or what political party or ideological school of thought they represent. Elected officials’ first thought is always about re-election, while career government workers’ is job security.

A journalist’s first thought is supposed to be getting the facts. To that end, we’re supposed to be adversaries, not co-conspirators, partners, favored “stakeholders,” or beneficiaries. That’s why the Constitution made us independent.