Internet repression: the new face of civil liberties violations?

Our friends in the US, usually a good barometer of forthcoming threats to civil liberties, are highlighting a bill that could give the US president “essentially unchecked power to determine what services can be connected to the internet”.

The bill, introduced by Republican senator Susan Collins and Independent Joe Lieberman, has been nicknamed the ‘kill switch’ bill. It could give president Obama the power to issue “a declaration of a national cyberemergency” and, by doing so, to hand over huge authority to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In such a scenario, DHS would be empowered to insist that ‘critical companies’ “shall immediately comply with any emergency measure or action”.

In other words, once the President declares a cyberemergency, DHS can make pretty much anyone do pretty much whatever they like. There’s no strongly binding language in the bill that limits who or what can be shut down. There’s not even explicit recourse to judicial review.

Wikileaks? We can guarantee that, if this bill becomes law, Julian Assange will be looking for another job — or at least another way of sharing information. Even if you believe Obama will use the powers responsibly, who’s to say what tack future presidents might take?

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