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A proposal for an Internet ‘kill switch’

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Kai Ryssdal:Just for argument’s sake, let’s suppose another country or some tech-savvy terrorists launch a massive attack on the Internet here in the United States. The idea is not that far-fetched. In fact, it’s not far-fetched at all. The Pentagon and private companies like Google already fend off millions of attacks every day. So as that hypothetical attack we started with escalates, the president shuts down the Internet or parts of it. That’s either scary or comforting, depending where you’re coming from.

Jeff Horwich reports a bipartisan group of Senators wants to build just that kind of Internet “kill switch”in the Oval Office.

Jeff Horwich: Senators don’t have a great history when it comes to explaining the Internet. Here’s former Sen. Ted Stevens from a few years back:

Sen. Ted Stevens: The Internet is not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes!

Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman has picked up the torch. He just rolled out the “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act,” still sounding a bit like your grandpa just discovering the C-word.

Sen. Joe Lieberman: Cyber warriors, cyber spies, cyber terrorists and cyber criminals.

Lieberman says the president should be able to shut down the Internet in the event of a, uh, cyber attack. So how do you turn the Internet off?

Declan McCullagh is a writer at CNET. He says in practice the president would likely issue targeted orders to individual companies.

Declan McCullagh: I may need to order you to take down your network in this area of the country or to stop accepting any traffic, say, from Russia or China, even if it endangers a lot of legitimate communications.

Daniel Castro is with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. He says the tech industry doesn’t believe government will know which orders to issue.

Daniel Castro: The private sector is responsible for 80 percent of critical infrastructure. They are the organizations best placed to understand the risk.

Lieberman and his co-sponsors say the bill is largely about Homeland Security collaborating with companies to spot threats early and attack them together.

I’m Jeff Horwich for Marketplace.

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