Should the president have an Internet kill switch?

Several U.S. Senators plan to introduce a bill that would give the president the power to restrict Internet traffic in the event of a cyber security emergency. Today’s Question: Should the president have an “Internet kill switch” to limit damage to U.S. infrastructure in case of a cyber attack?

Here’s some background reading from that Washington Post that susses out the pros and cons. Excerpt:

Greg Nojeim, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Project on Freedom, Security and Technology, said the bill is focused on cyber security emergency measures, not on squelching dissent. But he said the measure is not sufficient to ensure that such power to control Internet access is not abused.

“What if the authority the bill gives the government to shut down or limit Internet traffic was abused?” Nojeim said. “What would be the remedy? The bill does not allow for a remedy. There’s no authority for an objective decision-maker to ensure the decision … is properly based on a true emergency.”

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Nasdaq computers have been under attack. What if attackers were able to damage the U.S. financial system in a widespread attack?

  • Josh D.

    No, no, no. Of course not. Should the government work to protect internet infrastructure from attack? Of course, but I fail to see how shutting it (the whole thing) off would help. I think there should be the ability to limit and quarantine certain parts of the internet as needed: if the Nasdaq is being attacked then do what you need to do to protect it and keep the problem from spreading.

    But in my mind, shutting off the entire internet would cause far more wide spread panic (and with it economic impact) than shutting off only what is needed to correct a problem or stem an attack.

  • hiram

    Well, no. But he should have the right to cancel his subscription to the Washington Post any time he chooses. But I am also in favor of a constitutional amendment requiring that he take a subscription to the New York Times.

    This might be heresy, but where politics is concerned, the internet just isn’t that big a deal. Not in Egypt, and certainly not here.

  • jfh

    absolutely not. And no one else in the Federal Bureaucracy should have one, either. Local control is already available.

  • DMox

    Absolutely NO! Should the President have the ability to stop newspaper presses from running? Should he have the right to stop you from telling your neighbor what you saw?

    There is no reason for it, other than to suppress information from spreading in the country. True, a large scale virus/internet attack could cause damage to our infrastructure, but individual servers could be shut down by their owners.

  • GaryF

    Nope. Never. Nada.

  • Nate
  • Todd

    No kill switch is advisable or needed.Plus, it already exists, I am sure. Legalizing what is already probably there, however, would be a green light for government abuse of freedom of information.

  • Noel

    Heck NO!

  • Mike Lilja

    HELL NO!!! was my knee jerk reaction to the question. My more thoughtful reaction is still no. My concern is that it will be used more for stopping information and communication. As pointed out in another post, by the time the switch is thrown, the damage will have already been done. If infrastructure is the concern, then either certain things should not be on line or we should behave differently in the world so as not to have to worry about such things.

  • steve

    no, because it would stimy communication and create chaos, panic, financial loss, and is just a rediculous idea. many people are dependent on the internet, social networking-it is the connectedness to the outside world!

  • Steve the Cynic

    No. What’s the real scariest threat to the internet? It’s not cyber attacks by foreign powers. It’s oligopoly control by a handful of big corporations (and their Gang Of Plutocrat allies in Washington), who will use it to milk the public for exorbitant profits and to squash small-business rivals (just like Micro$oft did with DOS & Windows). But then, tyrants have always used the threat of foreign invasion to distract the people from their own suffering and scare them into accepting tyranny. Congress has no business talking about an internet “kill switch” until net neutrality is the law of the land.

  • Michael

    The solution to protecting important computers like those at Wall Street or the Pentagon is investing in top-notch security protection, not turning off the Internet. If you don’t fix the problem, it’ll just come back when you turn the Internet back on.

    The government should realize that in 2011 the Internet is its best tool to disseminate information and reach as wide an audience as possible with its messages, both in an emergency and not.

  • Alison

    And what happens if hackers find their way to this kill switch?

  • Tom

    I really question the timing of this proposal. Higher security measures will protect the interests on the web, not authoritarian power. We just saw in the Middle East what can happen if these 1984 ideals become realities.

  • Kevin VC

    That is a complex question.

    Anyone who says otherwise is a moron and does not understand the question or the nature of the internet.

    On the surface the request is reasonable, until you look at what the internet is, what runs on it now, and the scope of the problems caused if you do kill it.

    First off the internet was designed to be de-centralized. There by preventing any one spot from being able to shut it down. You can disconnect great regions (like Egypt) because they have few actual connections to it…. At least more easily then actually shutting it down. This offers you one big huge LAN not on the WAN…. (Well technically is still a WAN… )

    This was done in the event of a nuke strike to try and kill it.

    Also there are many LIFE support programs and monitoring systems now run on it. If it was shut off as this FANTASY suggests, then their is potential danger there.

    And for other reasons most of our electronic life runs on it, including banking….

    To say yes, allow such power one will need a insane level of attack….

    Like aliens with incredible advanced understanding of our computer and network systems……

    There just have not been that many greatly skilled hackers. (Still kinda sad since these morons still get away 90-99% of the time…)

    But hacking blocks of people like North Korea, China, and criminals of the former Soviet state do continue to pose a threat. Most of their attacks are brute force, no skill, and generally truthfully easily seen miles away if monitored.

    I would say greater internet monitoring skills would be wiser.Stuff tailored to need.

    Now these groups of people are not the ONLY groups who do this. Anyone who actively monitors their activity will know kinda what they are doing. And I would say one needs to be ACTIVELY monitoring, as in thinking beings doing the work as well. Pattern recognition programs are still and will continue to be limited compared to the human monitoring.

    Anyway that be my two cents.

  • James

    Like he/they don’t already?

    The second things get wacky,, “Boom – Boom out go the lights”

    Data transfer is one of the items the government does have control over.


  • George

    Even if this were possible it’s a bad idea. “Absolute power corrupts…absolutely” (Acton)

  • greg h

    yes… but only if the prez also has a reset/reboot button for : congress, supreme court & media. Cause – darn… doing the first without being able to do the other three …. is almost pointless.

  • Fish

    The first thing a dictator wants to do is control, (or prevent), the transfer of information. In North Korea this is the case even down to a conversation in a household. Nazi Germany jammed radio [BBC] broadcasts, (so doesn’t Communist Cuba for that matter). Xerox machines were illegal in the USSR. All these tyrants do these things under the guise of “national security”. Of which we’ve seen alot since 9/11. If it was even possible to have an internet “kill switch”, that would be another point in the win column for the terrorists. A freebee at that.

  • Andrew

    No, no, no. One person should not have that much power. Maybe if a 2/3 vote of congress would be required, however I still don’t like laws that are proposed out of fear.

  • Dave

    No as expressed in above remarks.

  • Bruce

    No – Never, No one should have that much power or control.

  • Jim White

    No, of course not. Besides being anathema to the 1st Amendment, it is technically a nightmare, and, to top it off, it would not be able to accomplish its goal. What a stupid idea!

  • Ben


    There is this thing called the 1st amendment.

    Besides the Egyptians proved that stopping the internet doesn’t work anyway, so why bother.

  • james fingleton wild

    More on morons, Kevin. If you people run microsoft then that company already has in place a kill switch. It is error 403.6 forbidden access for computers placed on a banned I P list. Errors 404 505 401 can also be used now to block access to web pages. Internet explorer has been designed to allow monitoring by the government security agencies. Windows live services can be used to transmit information from your computer to where ever. Windows also allows remote access to your computer. Google and twitter also can be used to block communications and deliver spyware and malware. Your local Internet service provider can also block you now. There already exists filters that can be turned on to block web sites or personal I P addresses. DTOM and Todd are right it is already here.

    China was castigated for blocking google, I suggest they knew more than the morons.

    Then there is the legal blocks such as making it a crime to look up sites such as wikileaks. As for security services look at what Anonymous did to that computer guy.

    If you want security for your computer don’t go online.

  • DNA

    Someone who doesn’t have the conscience to reverse Marijuana prohibition, and to legalize Cannabis/Hemp/Marijuana/Ganja (the world most useful and versatile plant) for all good purposes, doesn’t deserve that power.

    see The Union:

  • jesse bearheart

    The U.S. Constitution and those who wrote it does not/did not say anything about a “kill switch”. No one should be allowed to kill free speech!

  • Bob

    Yes for national security. The Internet is a data pathway and a national infrastructure. It is not a form of expression. Wea are the freedom of information and expression with it’s function. It is a strategic asset.

  • Matt

    If the internet was solely used for blogs and letting people watch cat videos then yes I would say this is an excellent idea. During a national emergency I can see shutting people off so that the government can use more bandwidth for whatever their temporary needs be. There is precedent for this during previous wars when the government “shut off” public access to certain raw materials so that they could be used for war purposes. While I’m not sure the Internet could be used this way if there is a need I’m fine with supporting my country.

    Again if the Internet was just used for entertainment I’d be fine with a temporary switch but this is not the case. Now EVERYTHING uses the internet. I do all my banking online, school is online, social life is online, work in online. If the internet was shut off for me it would not be just my free speech being shut off but my whole means of living.

    And that is just what I use the internet for. There are power companies that use the internet to communicate with their power stations, traffic cameras that keep people safe using the internet, all kinds of things. If there was a way to differentiate between what was being killed and what wasn’t this would not be a problem for me.

  • Patrick

    Hmmmm….did the internet save millions of jobs or house mortages from the economic collapse? Has it improved effectiveness in our inept representatives? Is the internet another pyramid game?

    From previous comments I get the sensation that many are more than willing to give up their freedoms rather than risk losing a minute on the net, which in reality has already happened.