Does the President Need Special Powers During a 'Cyber Emergency'?

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Shortly after three senators, including Joe Lieberman, introduced a bill to give the president sweeping powers during a "cyber emergency," Egypt's government pulled the country off the Internet. The Egyptian move highlighted just how fragile our networks can be when a central government decides to undermine them. Today, the legislators tried to fight back against the perception that their handiwork would give the president such authority.

Whatever the senators' wishes, from the description CNET's Declan McCullagh provides below, it's hard to see how such legislation doesn't require incredible faith in our government's benevolence.

Their so-dubbed "Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act" would hand the president power over privately owned computer systems during a "national cyber emergency" and prohibit review by the court system. CNET reported last week that it will be reintroduced in the new Congress.

If the president declares a "cyber emergency," according to a summary prepared by Lieberman's committee, the Department of Homeland Security could "issue mandatory emergency measures necessary to preserve the reliable operation of covered critical infrastructure."

Although the term "kill switch" appears nowhere in the legislation, those "mandatory" measures could include ordering "critical" computers, networks, or Web sites disconnected from the Internet. It also includes controversial new language--which did not appear in the initial version introduced last summer--saying that the federal government's designation of vital Internet or other computer systems "shall not be subject to judicial review."

Perhaps more than any other section of the legislation, that part has drawn significant criticism from industry representatives and civil libertarians.

Read the full story at CNET.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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