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Does the Senate Cyber Bill Include an 'Internet Kill Switch'?

Congress Versus Internet Intermediaries

Should Congress Overturn the FCC's Openness Rules?

Defense Department Role in Securing Private Networks Should Be Limited

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March 8, Washington, DC - CDT will hold its 2011 Annual Dinner in Washington, DC. Click here for more information.


As the new Congress takes up a range of technology issues, CDT has been educating lawmakers about the benefits and pitfalls of various proposed bills. From the FCC's openness rules to the new Senate cybersecurity bill and the continuing debate about copyright protection online, there has been a constant stream of challenges for CDT to address.

Does the Senate Cyber Bill Include an 'Internet Kill Switch'?

After the recent shutdowns of the Internet in Libya and Egypt, many were wondering, "Could that happen here in the U.S.?" Concerns have focused on a Senate cybersecurity bill, first drafted last year and reintroduced on February 17 by Senators Lieberman, Collins and Carper. This year, the bill's sponsors have included language explicitly denying to the President or any other official the power to "shut down the Internet," and the Senators deny that their legislation was ever intended to empower the President to deny U.S. citizens access to the Internet. Others remain concerned, however, that the bill contains what amounts to an Internet "kill switch."

The bill does NOT authorize the government to shut down the entire Web, and that would be very difficult anyhow as a practical matter. However, the Senate measure does include a vaguely worded provision that enhances the government's role over the Internet and that authorizes the Department of Homeland Security in an emergency to shut down some elements of the Internet or to curb some Internet communications. Granting such a power would do more harm that good, says CDT's Greg Nojeim. He suggested a change to the bill that would kill the kill switch debate and make room for more robust consideration of the bill's other important provisions.

Congress Versus Internet Intermediaries

On February 16, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), a bill proposed last year to curb online intellectual property infringement. At the hearing, various witnesses and Senators suggested that everyone in the "Internet ecosystem" needs to take strong action to fight infringement. Their underlying assumption, stated explicitly at several points, was that companies providing provide basic Internet functions such as domain name services, transmission capability, and search should be viewed as "enabling" or "facilitating" piracy and should bear responsibility for policing infringing material on the Internet.

This view runs counter to an essential element of U.S. Internet policy for the past 20 years. Starting in the early days of the Internet, policymakers deliberately chose (in Section 230 and the DMCA "Safe Harbor," among other laws) to allow providers of Internet access and online services to focus on empowering communications among their users without having to monitor, supervise, or play any other kind of "gatekeeping" role. In CDT's view, protecting intermediaries from liability and not using them to control third-party content is what has enabled the rise of user-generated content platforms, "Web 2.0," and the almost limitless range of online tools and services that foster speech, collaboration, civic engagement, and economic growth.

Should Congress Overturn the FCC's Openness Rules?

At a recent hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, opponents of the Federal Communications Commission's new Internet openness rules questioned everything from the need for the rules to the FCC's authority to implement them. After the hearing, resolutions were introduced in both the House and Senate to nullify the rules.

CDT is wary of giving the FCC too much power over the Internet, but Andrew McDiarmid examines the rationale for allowing the FCC to exercise some authority over what is becoming the core communications network of the 21st century - authority focused on preventing discrimination that could harm consumer choice, competition, and online innovation.

Defense Department Role in Securing Private Networks Should Be Limited

The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities held its first hearing on cybersecurity of this Congress in February. CDT's Greg Nojeim testified that DOD entities such as the National Security Agency and the new "Cybercommand" ought to focus their efforts on securing government military systems. The DoD can help the private sector to secure its systems, and the Department of Homeland Security to secure civilian government systems, not by monitoring them but by sharing information and expertise.

CDT's testimony also highlighted the danger that pursuit of other government goals could unintentionally weaken cybersecurity. In particular, proposed expansion of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994 could force service providers to build vulnerabilities into their products and services.

The First HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty

The Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services recently levied a whopping $4.3 million penalty against Cignet Health for violations of HIPAA data access requirements - the first health privacy penalty of its kind.

Diving into 'Do Not Track'

Leslie Harris' latest column for ABC News explores the myths about "Do Not Track" technology.

Conversations With America: A Discussion on the State Department's Internet Freedom Strategy

Our President and CEO also sat down at the State Department for a video-taped discussion about Internet freedom.

Digital Signage Federation Adopts Privacy Standards

In another example of the value of CDT's engagement with industry self-regulatory efforts, the Digital Signage Federation adopts privacy standards first drafted by CDT's Harley Geiger.

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