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One of my friends has been particularly upset about this. I will try to track down a serious citation of someone making this claim but have been unable to do so.

I believe there is a commission or something on cybersecurity that is looking into developing something related to securing and isolating telecommunication assets, but I thought it was more about scientific and technical research.

Are there any serious plans to grant the United States' government executive power to shut down the internet, even in some attenuated form?

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    I literally can't think of a faster way for a western government to overthrow itself. Revolution inbound in 3, 2, 1... – Jon Story Feb 18 '15 at 15:58
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A congressional act granting an executive "kill switch" for the internet was proposed in June 2010. It was called the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, and it never came up for vote in Congress (i.e. died).

There is a revised version of the bill in Congress now (introduced in February 2011) called the Cybersecurity and Internet Freedom Act of 2011. According to the bill's sponsor, Joe Lieberman, the revised version contains no kill switch. However, it seems that this may not be true, according to this CNET article:

The new version follows the same process as the old one: President Obama would be given the power to "issue a declaration of a national cyberemergency." Once that happens, Homeland Security would receive sweeping new authorities, including the power to require that so-called critical companies "shall immediately comply with any emergency measure or action" decreed.

No "notice" needs to be given "before mandating any emergency measure or actions." That means a company could be added to the "critical" infrastructure list one moment, and ordered by Homeland Security to "immediately comply" with its directives the next.

It seems that if this is so, they could label all ISPs "critical" and prevent anyone from accessing the internet. It would probably be a lot more paperwork, but I don't think that would discourage them.

So yes, this new bill (which is still in the early stages of legislature, as far as I can tell), seems to contain a weakened form of the "kill switch", but not an executive one. It wouldn't be up to the President, or any other single person, but an entire governmental department.

You can read the entire bill here, but unless you can speak legalese, you might not be able to make sense of any of it, let alone know where to start. (It's unfortunate that I can't really answer your question directly from reading the bill, but such is American politics-- have to rely on sometimes-dubious third parties like news outlets to interpret legislature by proxy).

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    Not fluent in legalese, but 2c of the act states pretty clearly: "Notwithstanding any provision of this Act, an amendment made by this Act, or section 706 of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 606), neither the President, the Director of the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications, or any officer or employee of the United States Government shall have the authority to shut down the Internet." [Interestingly, section b-4 of act suggests that this would be impossible anyway.] – Joseph Weissman Mar 6 '11 at 15:43
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    @Joe wow, I can't believe the phrase "shut down the Internet" is in a legitimate document anywhere, much less the government. But that's moot anyways, they can shut down certain services (ICANN for instance) which would render the Internet useless to un-savvy users. etc. – cthom06 Mar 7 '11 at 15:53
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    Correct. They can't shut down the internet, as it's global. But they can by decree from DHS (meaning cabinet level, meaning the president effectively) order any company to stop transferring any data to or from the internet. Which for anyone in the US, and for anyone trying to access US based internet resources from outside the US, has the same effect: it'll look like the internet has been shut down. – jwenting Mar 21 '11 at 11:50
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    @JosephWeissman how magnanimous of them. – kotekzot May 16 '12 at 5:20
  • @jwenting In other words, they can shut down the internet in the same sense as Nigeria can. – John Dec 12 '13 at 10:15

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