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Kill the Internet Kill the Internet

Why the Internet Kill Switch is a Really, REALLY Bad Idea

Kill the Internet

There are certain things, particularly in politics and technology, that seem to make sense on the surface. Take, for instance, the rejuvenated legislation they’re considering putting back on the table that would grant the President of the United States the power to “kill” the Internet in times of extreme crisis.

Makes sense, right? “Imminent cyber attacks,” as they’re described by Homeland Security, would be the triggering event to initiate a shut down. The example used is a cyber attack on the Hoover Dam that would open the gates without authorization. In such a case, the President would “flip a switch” and Internet access to Hoover Dam computers would be extinguished.

It is in this example, in the trends of where previous legislation has eventually led, and in the clear examples of exterminated freedoms (Egypt, hello?) that we would be wise to email our Congressional representatives and let them know we don’t want this put into law.

The Hoover Dam Contingency: “Oh, that sounds useful.”

Hoover Dan

An aide to the Homeland Security committee that is pushing this legislation forward used “The Hoover Dam Contingency” as an example of when the power would be used by the President. The infrastructure connected to “the system that controls the floodgates to the Hoover dam” could be cut by the President if the government detected an imminent cyber attack.

This is logical on the surface and asinine once you peel back a thin layer or two. First, cyber attacks happen. This isn’t 24 where they get some obscure tip that someone is about to open the Hoover Dam floodgates. Second, the power to use the kill switch could actually hurt our ability to close the floodgates remotely in such an event.

The bottom line here is that they’re selling Lightning Insurance. There is no precedence where such a kill switch would have averted any cyber attacks (thus, the hypothetical Hoover Dam scenario rather than saying, “if we would have had this before, we could have…”). The power would be wasted and possibly do further damage more often than it helped the situation.

Expanded Power Abuse: Wiretaps. Airport Groping. Torture.


In the immortal words of Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The US government has proven time and time again in recent years that, “With great responsibility comes abuse of great power.”

Homeland Security has done more than most give them credit for, but they have also trampled on our rights time and time again by taking laws that were meant to protect citizens and expanding them to include outright abuses. Wiretapping, airport groping, and waterboarding (technically not an issue of Homeland Security, but relevant nonetheless) are examples of giving the government an inch and them taking a mile.

Today, the concept of the kill switch is that it would improve the security of America by giving the government the power to stop critical cyber attacks. The ACLU and other organizations are skeptical (as they should be). A group led by the ACLU wrote Congress last year when the legislation was first introduced:

“It is imperative that cyber-security legislation not erode our rights.”

Perhaps it should have read, “It is inevitable that cyber-security legislation will erode our rights.”

Brilliant Timing

Egypt Internet

If I didn’t know any better, I would think that the committee is introducing the legislation now in order to kill it completely. Coming the same day that Egypt fell into Internet turmoil because of a kill order by the government is both comical and somewhat idiotic. They should have issues a press release that said:

“That stuff that’s happening in Egypt – crippling the country, sending stock prices to nil, and causing general chaos with protesters getting killed – well, we want to have the ability to do the same thing.”

Thanks for the laughs, Washington. Now kill the Internet Kill Switch Bill.

  1. Their justification is even more idiotic than the “ticking time bomb” torture justification. Even in the vanishingly unlikely case (as you’ve described) that there’s a threat to the Hoover Dam that for some reason can only be stopped by blocking access to the Hoover Dam’s systems from the Internet, the operators of the Hoover Dam would presumably just do that. They already can, by cutting a cable if necessary, and don’t need any new law to allow them to. No need for the president to get involved, no reason to mandate a centrally-controlled mechanism for every system on the Internet.

    Gaah! The stupid, it burns!

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