US Senate bill proposes President emergency Internet powers

On Thursday 10 June Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, announced a new bill, formally titled the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act (PCNAA), which would grant the President far-reaching emergency powers to seize control of or even shut down portions of the Internet.

The legislation announced says that companies such as broadband providers, search engines, or software firms that the government selects “shall immediately comply with any emergency measure or action developed” by the Department of Homeland Security. Anyone failing to comply would be fined.

Any company on a list created by Homeland Security that also “relies on” the Internet, the telephone system, or any other component of the U.S. “information infrastructure” would be subject to command by a new National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC) that would be created inside Homeland Security. The only limitation to such powers is that the NCCC cannot order broadband providers or other companies to “conduct surveillance” of Americans unless it’s otherwise legally authorized.

The NCCC also would be granted the power to monitor the “security status” of private sector Web sites, broadband providers, and other Internet components. Furthermore, selected private companies would be required to participate in “information sharing” with the Feds.

On the otehr hand, the proposed legislation offers to industry groups immunity from civil lawsuit. That is, if a software company’s programming error costs customers billions, or a broadband provider intentionally cuts off its customers in response to a federal command, neither would be liable.

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