Responding to charges that their legislation would establish an Internet "kill switch," the top members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee introduced legislation late Thursday that would specifically keep the president from shutting down the Internet.
The committee's chairman, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and ranking member, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, joined Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., in revising and reintroducing their Cybersecurity and Internet Freedom Act.
The bill is almost identical to legislation proposed last year, but after concern that the bill could allow the president to control the Internet in an emergency, the three senators included language that prohibits the president from blocking all access to the Internet, as Egypt's government did during the recent protests.
"We want to clear the air once and for all," Lieberman said. "As someone said recently, the term 'kill switch' has become the 'death panels' of the cybersecurity debate. There is no so-called 'kill switch' in our legislation because the very notion is antithetical to our goal of providing precise and targeted authorities to the President. Furthermore, it is impossible to turn off the Internet in this country."
To overcome that criticism, the act states: "Neither the President, the Director of the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications or any officer or employee of the United States Government shall have the authority to shut down the Internet."
In another change from last year, the bill also allows operators of systems and assets that are deemed "critical infrastructure" to appeal any action taken under the act's provisions.
The legislation's sponsors called debate over a "kill switch" a distraction.
"The so-called 'Internet kill switch' debate has eclipsed discussion of actual, substantive provisions in this bill," Lieberman said. He went to note that the bill is likely part of comprehensive cybersecurity legislation.