Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The simple text above is extracted from the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. But a bipartisan attack on this basic American right is brewing on Capitol Hill. The Cybersecurity and Internet Freedom Act would enable the Executive Branch of the United States to limit citizens' access to Internet resources in the name of national security.
This same power could be used in the way it was by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Lybian leader Moammar Gadhafi recently.
One of the provisions of the bill will be the establishment of the Office of Cyberspace Policy. This office will have responsibilities including, but not limited to: conducting computer network operations (which includes offensive and defensive activities); enforcing policies relating to cyberspace security and resilience within all federal agencies; and ensuring capabilities to effectively operate in cyberspace. Another provision covered under section 254 sets aside the ability of the secretary of this new office to establish and maintain a list of systems and assets considered to be critical Internet infrastructure.
Once the system or asset is identified as "critical," the owner must be notified. The bill does not give a timeframe from when it is deemed critical and when it is covered under this heading, meaning it is possible the classification may take effect immediately. The owner of the asset may appeal this classification by filing a civil action with the United States District Court. Once the asset is classified as critical, the owner must comply with any requests issued by the National Cyberspace Advisory Council and its secretary.
This bill has the potential to throttle open communication among the American people. By declaring the routers or backbone used by popular communications tools, such as Twitter and Facebook, as critical, the National Cyberspace Advisory Council could control the flow of traffic and even cut off access to these sites. News sources from the US or abroad could also be disrupted, concealing what is going on with the US, our allies, and our enemies.
The ability to communicate quickly and freely is a cornerstone of freedom. The ability of the government to silence these voices under the banner of security and protection raises major concerns. Other bills were passed immediately after 9/11 with the promise they would be temporary and allowed to expire. These laws are renewed and expanded as time passes under the promise of "preventing another tragedy."
Once the government gains a power, it very seldom returns it to the people. Measures established as temporary become the norm. I ask that we heed the words of Benjamin Franklin, who said, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
— Mike Streufert is currently working as a computer technician for a 403c broadcasting network that reaches around the globe.