Does the Internet have an off switch?

The Cybersecurity and Internet Freedom Act was recently introduced by Senators Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Susan Collins of Maine, and Thomas Carper of Delaware. In its original form, introduced last year, it gave the president power to ask Internet service providers to limit their service or shut down communications with certain countries in the event of an emergency. The latest form emphasizes the Department of Homeland Security in taking that role.

People have been calling this bill the "Internet kill switch," even though that language does not appear anywhere in the bill. The bill's sponsors and defenders have insisted that's not what this is about and they're not trying to shut anyone out. Instead, they're concerned about the increase in cyber attacks and attempted attacks and they just want to protect national infrastructure. Make sure controls on dams are secure, make sure planes fly where they're supposed to.

We talk with Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder and co-director of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society about what the bill would accomplish as well as what it would not. We also talk about the structure of the Internet itself. Jonathan says it's not like Frankenstein's monster with a big heavy switch controlling it. It's more like an all-night rave.

Also in this program, another installment of "O Internet What Hast Thou Wrought." This time, a new app lets you do silly things with strangers in public. If. You. Want.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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