In separate legislation, Maine’s two Senators have proposed bills that could effectively give the occupant of the White House an Internet “kill” switch that may be used at a time of emergency in the sole discretion of the President.
While each piece of legislation seeks to clarify and refine the authority the President has to shut down the Internet in a time of emergency, both pieces of legislation make an assumption that may in fact not exist. While there appears to be a general consensus that the President already possesses the authority to shut down the Internet in times of emergency, that consensus comes from an interpretation of the Communications Act of 1934. I am not certain that this interpretation is accurate and after speaking with two Constitutional attorneys, they do not believe the power currently exists.
This brings about several issues. First of all, how can you clarify a power and refine its authority if the power may in fact not exist? If this legislation proceeds and is passed into law, it may in fact be granting the Executive Branch additional power it does not currently possess. This is a dangerous way to make law and to bestow power. Keep in mind, a clarification of the boundaries of a given power is not necessary if the power does not actually exist in the first place.
Second and this is equally disturbing. Assuming the power does in fact exist, these two pieces of legislation give the Presidency the power to shut off the Internet during a time of “emergency.” The word emergency has broad meaning and is un-defined. Clearly, we cannot anticipate every type of emergency that may occur, but we do know the definition of what IS NOT an emergency. Giving the word emergency a more clear and more narrow definition is critical and necessary.
While the current occupant of the White House may not abuse this power and frankly there may not be an occupant of the White House who would in our lifetime, however, that does not preclude the potential abuse of such power, particularly in a political up-rising in America. One of the arenas that elected people have failed we the people is their inability to consider the “un-intended consequences” of their legislation. Both of these pieces of legislation have huge potential for abuse in the hands of a President that does not respect the rights of the individual.
For those who say my opposition to this legislation is founded in my opposition to President Obama, I leave you with two words to consider as you think about this legislation … President Palin