Great Depression Law Grants President Internet Kill Switch?

With Congress debating numerous bills designed to regulate the Internet, high on the Obama administration’s agenda is new legislation designed to give the President an Internet “kill switch” in some undefined emergency.

Now administration officials are overtly threatening Congress by claiming that the failure to pass a law granting such powers would mean that the President could rely upon existing executive branch authority under the Communications Act of 1934.

Yes. It is apparently the stance of President Obama that a law passed long before Al Gore invented ARPANET authorizes the President to do whatever he please to the World Wide Web in the event of an emergency.

The President is threatening to seize control of the Internet by “rely[ing] on a pre-World War II radio emergency law to provide the president with authority to protect key computer and communication networks.”

If the administration can’t tell the different between “radio” and “Internet,” would you trust the executive branch not to abuse the definition of “emergency?” You don’t need an Internet attorney to define these terms for you…but perhaps the President does.

If the President happens to be trailing in the polls in late October 2012, would websites critical of his policies be shut down because of the “emergency” need for him to win re-election?

This isn’t picking on the current Oval Office occupant. Would you trust this power in the hands of any single politician without immediate real checks on that power?

At a minimum, shouldn’t a presidential Internet “kill switch” power require a federal district court order, be on a very temporary basis, and subject to immediate appeal to the U.S Supreme Court?

And based on the current threat to act unilaterally under a 1934 law that has absolutely nothing to do with the Internet, Congress should seriously consider tabling the notion of granting a “kill switch” and focus instead on clarifying that Great Depression-era law so that it can’t be twisted into a legal position to support the administration’s current interpretation of it.

If your website gets shut down by Executive Order, do you truly own an e-commerce business or are you simply a peasant working at the will and pleasure of the current monarch? If the latter, Internet lawyers won’t be able to help you regain the business you’ve lost by royal decree.

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