No “Kill Switch” in Lieberman-Collins Bill, But There’s Been One Since 1934

big red button
Photo by w?odi / CC

Over at ReadWriteWeb I take a look at the controversy surrounding the Lieberman-Collins bill:

It doesn’t sound like a “kill switch.” The bill would require the President to submit a report describing, among other things, “The actions necessary to preserve the reliable operation and mitigate the consequences of the potential disruption of covered critical infrastructure” (pg. 84 lines 1-4). That sounds like the opposite of a kill switch: this legislation describes a process by which the president is expected to take action to ensure access to “critical infrastructure” -including the Internet.

There’s plenty of room to debate the merits of the federal government dictating the security policies of private companies, the ability of the president to continually extend any provisions beyond 30 days, the value of establishing new cyber security departments within the government, and the vagueness of the language in the bill. But this is nothing nearly so radical as some are making it out to be.

In fact, as Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ web site for the bill points out, the President already has a legislative (but of course, not technological) “kill switch.” The Communications Act of 1934 gave the president power to shut down “wire communications.”

ReadWriteWeb: No “Kill Switch” in Lieberman-Collins Bill, But There’s Been One Since 1934

Big thanks to Laura for her help with this article!


  1. Shut down, no. Seize control of, yes. In a world where many national government exercise oppressive control over the Internet, this is not an abstract question. Increasing social inequality is not compatible with democracy. As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in the United States, keeping a free speech bastion like the Internet alive seems tenuous at best.

  2. Klint Finley

    June 29, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    There’s no provision to “Seize control of” the Internet either, again beyond that which has already been available since 1934.

  3. Klint Finley

    June 29, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    But if you mean theoretically, yes of course – no government *wouldn’t* want to control the Internet. ACTA is of far more of a concern in that regard than Lieberman-Collins, and the technological ability to reliably control the net is becoming more of a reality:

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