Last week, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, led by Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) became the subject of some debate when news spread that it was calling for a so-called "internet kill switch" which would give the President the power to shut down the whole darn thing in a state of emergency. Apparently, however, nobody bothered to do any research into the topic until very recently -- and of course, the truth is far more complicated than a horrifying phrase like "internet kill switch." Because as it turns out, according to the 1934 Communications Act (which is still in effect today), the President already has the power to shut down any and all telecommunications systems in situations he or she deems it necessary for national security, and Lieberman's call was for a reassessment of the Act.
So what are Lieberman's evil plans for the 'net? His proposal, S. 3480, is a far more subtle document than the original act, which essentially says "hey, do whatever you have to do, man," and calls for the designation of cyberspace as a 'national asset.' It asks for the private owners of critical infrastructure to develop risk assessment plans, and plans to mitigate that risk, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security. There are also several recommended procedures called for in the event of an emergency, but none of them have anything to do with a mechanism to shut anything down, and the director would be expressly prohibited from requiring owners to use any specific mechanism. So... the exact opposite of a kill switch. Also, it's worthwhile to note that the entire proposition calls for these changes to be developed by the private sector itself, rather than imposed on it. Kind of makes the story a little less interesting, that's for sure. Hit up the source -- Talking Points Memo -- for a far more detailed, insightful account of what's actually going down.