Filed under: BoingBoing, Civil Rights, Constitution, DARPA, Emergency, Government, Politics, Predictions, Science Fiction, Society, tech
The power to turn off is the power to destroy.*
I’m talking about exactly what we’re seeing in Egypt at present: when the power of the state is threatened, it will resort to almost any means to survive. Specifically, the government of Egypt has shut down the internet, mobile phones, and basically all modern communications in order to better control civil unrest.
And some in our government want the US to have the same power:
On Thursday Jan 27th at 22:34 UTC the Egyptian Government effectively removed Egypt from the internet. Nearly all inbound and outbound connections to the web were shut down. The internet intelligence authority Renesysexplains it here and confirms that “virtually all of Egypt’s Internet addresses are now unreachable, worldwide.” This has never happened before in the entire history of the internet, with a nation of this size. A block of this scale is completely unheard of, and Senator Joe Lieberman wants to be able to do the same thing in the US.
This isn’t a new move, last year Senators Lieberman and Collins introduced a fairly far-reaching bill that would allow the US Government to shut down civilian access to the internet should a “Cybersecurity Emergency” arise, and keep it offline indefinitely. That version of the bill received some criticism though Lieberman continued to insist it was important. The bill, now referred to as the ‘Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act’ (PCNAA) has been revised a bit and most notably now removes all judicial oversight. This bill is still currently circulating and will be voted on later this year. Lieberman has said it should be a top priority.
Think about that. Do you really want to hand over that kind of power to the government?
Or perhaps I should say: “do you really want to validate that kind of power in advance?” Because I am not naive enough to think that the government wouldn’t just do this in the event of a real emergency (in their opinion). But like with Lincoln suspending habeas corpus during the Civil War, there should be some check on such a decision after the fact – which there may not be with such a provision already in place. Handing someone that kind of power in advance is like handing them a loaded gun – they don’t necessarily have to use it in order for it to be a factor in all decisions which follow. Just the threat to use it is powerful, and shifts the whole dynamic.
Take another look at what is happening in Egypt. We never want to have to get to that point in trying to *reclaim* our civil liberties. Granting the government specific power to shut down the internet in order to ‘save us from a cyber security threat’ is just another in a long line of steps preying upon our fears. Don’t give in. And tell your senator what you think.
*Marshall‘s actual quote was “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” From McCulloch v. Maryland.
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