Excising The Judiciary

by Conor Friedersdorf

Senators Lieberman and Collins are teaming up on behalf of a disgraceful bill that would give the president unprecedented power over the Internet in a national emergency. Or if there wasn't an emergency, and the president just wanted to engage in wanton abuses of power, it would effectively enable that too, because it prohibits the court system from reviewing the decision to declare an emergency:

The revised version includes new language saying that the federal government's designation of vital Internet or other computer systems "shall not be subject to judicial review." Another addition expanded the definition of critical infrastructure to include "provider of information technology," and a third authorized the submission of "classified" reports on security vulnerabilities.

The idea of creating what some critics have called an Internet "kill switch" that the president could flip in an emergency is not exactly new. A draft Senate proposal that CNET obtained in August 2009 authorized the White House to "declare a cybersecurity emergency," and another from Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) would have explicitly given the government the power to "order the disconnection" of certain networks or Web sites. House Democrats have taken a similar approach in their own proposals.

Here's Doug Mataconis on the irony of this bill:

On Friday, the crisis in Egypt seemed to finally come to the attention of the West when the Egyptian government decided to completely cut off the nation’s connections to the internet... we need to step back and think about whether its really a good idea to be giving this kind of unchecked power to a President. Not just this President, or the last one, but any President. The most important thing to remember about grants of power like this is that they almost never get revoked, and the typically get expanded on over time.

Hosni Mubarak’s decision to cut off the Internet may have done us a huge favor in some respects by bringing this issue to the forefront. Do we really want our President to have the power to do something that dictators do when faced with citizen unrest? I don’t.

Me neither.

The Founders gave us a system of checks and balances. Pre-emptively dismantling it is idiocy. This is the sort of legislation that ought to be anathema to the subsets of the right and left that claim to care about liberty. Perhaps they can take time away from shouting at the Koch brothers and fretting about death panels to kill it?