It appears that there is yet another assault on net neutrality and the internet. This time, it involves government intervention on the internet.
During a recent interview with CNN’s State of the Union program, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) signaled that the U.S. should have the ability to disconnect the internet in a case of war. Lieberman introduced S. 3480, the “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act.” When asked about whether or not the legislation involved a Presidential “kill switch”, Lieberman said:
No way, and total misinformation. I don’t know whether people are intentionally pedaling misinformation. Here is the fact. Cyber-war is going on in some sense right now. Our civilian infrastructure, the Internet that runs the electric grid, the telecommunications grid, transportation, all the rest is constantly being probed by nation states, by some terrorist groups, by organized criminal gangs.
And we need this capacity in a time of war. We need the capacity for the president to say, Internet service provider, we’ve got to disconnect the American Internet from all traffic coming in from another foreign country, or we’ve got to put a patch on this part of it.
The president will never take over — the government should never take over the Internet. Listen, we’ve consulted, Senator Collins and I, who are proposing this bill, with civil liberties and privacy experts. This is a matter of national security. A cyber attack on America can do as much or more damage today by incapacitating our banks, our communications, our finance, our transportation, as a conventional war attack.
And the president, in catastrophic cases — not going to do it every day, not going to take it over. So I say to my friends on the Internet, relax… (LAUGHTER) take a look at the bill. And this is something that we need to protect our country. Right now, China, the government, can disconnect parts of its Internet in a case of war. We need to have that here, too.
The New American reported in a recent article that the government will still have control, even if an emergency is not declared.
If this is not bad enough, the FCC recently voted 3-2 to classify the internet as a telecommunications service. This is yet another example of government control, as it will allow the FCC to place more regulations on the internet.
There are good reasons to be skeptical that the FCC in particular is the right agency to solve this problem even if it is a problem. Through most of its existence the agency has been fixed on regulating a legal monopoly—the old phone company—and on managing what were very limited broadcast spectrum—now largely supplanted by cable and more sophisticated technologies for managing the spectrum.
The FCC, recall, is the agency that watches broadcast (but not cable) television and issues fines for indecent content—an activity they do more, rather than less, even as broadcast becomes a trivial part of programming reception. Congress has three times tried to give the FCC authority to regulate indecency on the Internet as well, but the U.S. Supreme Court has stopped all three.
So if the FCC were to be the “smart cop on the beat” as Chairman Genachowski characterized his view of net neutrality, how would the agency’s temptation to shape content itself be curbed?
Worse, no one seems to have thought ahead as to how the FCC would enforce these rules. If I complain that my access is slow today and I believe that must mean my ISP is acting in a non-neutral fashion, the agency would have to look at the traffic and inside the packets in order to investigate my complaint. Again, the temptation to use that information and to share it with law enforcement under the name of anti-terrorism or other popular goals would be strong—strong enough that it ought to worry some of the groups advocating for net neutrality laws as a placebo to keep the ISPs in line.
Now, one has to ponder if the increased regulations will violate the First Amendment, “the freedom of speech.” With the recent FCC vote and Sen. Lieberman’s legislation, we are headed down this path. It appears that Congress and the Federal government view the Constitution as a “piece of paper” with little regards to our liberties.