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Kill Switch Bill Back in Play

As Egypt's government attempts to crackdown on street protests by shutting down internet and mobile phone services, the US is preparing to reintroduce a bill that could be used to shut down the internet.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

As Egypt’s government attempts to crackdown on street protests by shutting down internet and mobile phone services, the US is preparing to reintroduce a bill that could be used to shut down the internet.

The legislation, which would grant US President Barack Obama powers to seize control of and even shut down the internet, would soon be reintroduced to a senate committee.

It was initially introduced last year but expired with a new Congress.

 Senator Susan Collins, a co-sponsor of the bill, said that unlike in Egypt, where the government was using its powers to quell dissent by shutting down the internet, the USA  would not.

“My legislation would provide a mechanism for the government to work with the private sector in the event of a true cyber emergency,” Collins said in an emailed statement to Wired. “It would give our nation the best tools available to swiftly respond to a significant threat.”

The proposed legislation, introduced into the US Senate by independent senator Joe Lieberman, who is chairman of the US Homeland Security committee, seeks to grant the President broad emergency powers over the internet in times of national emergency.

Last year, Lieberman argued the bill was necessary to “preserve those networks and assets and our country and protect our people”.

He said that, for all its allure, the internet could also be a “dangerous place with electronic pipelines that run directly into everything from our personal bank accounts to key infrastructure to government and industrial secrets”.

US economic security, national security and public safety were now all at risk from new kinds of enemies, including “cyber warriors, cyber spies, cyber terrorists and cyber criminals”.

Although the bill was targetted at protecting the US, many have said it would also affect other nations.

One of Australia’s top communications experts, University of Sydney associate professor Bjorn Landfeldt, had previously railed against the idea, saying shutting down the internet would “inflict an enormous damage on the entire world”.

He said it would be like giving a single country “the right to poison the atmosphere, or poison the ocean”.

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