Lieberman Wants to Boost President's Cybersecurity Power

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    A YouTube video of US President-elect Barack Obama's weekly radio address is seen on a computer screen in Chicago on Nov. 22, 2008.

    Turn off the internet? Soon the President might be able to do it.

    The U.S. Senate is considering a bill that would allow the president to declare "national cyber emergencies" and requires that "the owner or operator of covered critical infrastructure shall immediately comply with any emergency measure or action" demanded of them, in section 249.c.1.

    Introduced by Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman, the bill also would establish a "National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications" under the Department of Homeland Security.

    The federal government would be required to have "a strategy designed to ensure the security of the Federal information infrastructure" (253.a).

    Most importantly, the president would have "clear authority to direct short-term emergency measures for a select group of critical infrastructure owners and operators in order to preserve their networks and protect the American people in the event of a catastrophic cyber attack," according to a summary of the bill on Senator Lieberman's website.

    According to OpenCongress.org's assessment, "cyber attacks typically constitute attempts to interrupt reliable operation of critical infrastructure."  It concludes, therefore, that "these emergency measures...may well require limiting or shutting down access to certain areas." 

    The bill specifies no restrictions on the president's power over the internet, except that the response to any "national cyber emergencies" must "represent the least disruptive means feasible" (249.3.c).

    "We must defend the internet just as we defend ourselves against conventional attack," said Lieberman in a release on his website, where he expresses hope that the bill will pass Congress by the end of the year.

    Senator Thomas Carper, a co-sponsor of the bill, said, "After working on this issue for several years, I know that cyberspace is viewed by bad actors as the soft underbelly of our nation. In fact most – if not all – of our critical infrastructure is dependent upon the security and resiliency of America’s information infrastructure," as quoted in Lieberman's statement.

    The bill is available as a PDF from OpenCongress.org.