Robert Knight

Did you know that the nation will soon undergo a test that will determine how effectively the President of the United States can seize control of the media in the event of an “emergency?” Well, that’s not the way they’re putting it.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a press release on Feb. 3 outlining the plan for the “first-ever Presidential alert.” On a date yet to be set, the Presidential alert will go “to television and radio broadcasters, cable systems and satellite service providers who will then deliver the alert to the American public,” according to the FCC.

This is not an opt-in plan. “The national test will require EAS [Emergency Alert System] participants to be part of the exercise and to receive and transmit a live code that includes a Presidential alert message to their respective viewers and listeners.”

Maybe it’s harmless. Maybe it’s somehow needed. The current EAS replaced the old Emergency Broadcast System back in 1997, and both list a presidential message as the first priority. But it has never been used for that.

It’s partly because we have so much instant media that it’s not needed. Also, having the President seize the media even for a short time sounds more like something out of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, Castro’s Cuba or Dear Leader’s North Korea. Perhaps Mr. Obama remembers that some TV networks here occasionally declined to carry George W. Bush’s messages.

This “first ever” Presidential alert dovetails with another development, a proposed presidential “kill switch” for the Internet in the event of an emergency.

A bill sponsored by Susan Collins (R-Maine) died in the last Congress but will soon be reintroduced. Collins said the proposed law “would provide a mechanism for the government to work with the private sector in the event of a true cyber emergency.”

According to Wired.com’s David Kravets, a Senate Homeland Security Committee aide said the law would, for example, require “the system that connects the floodgates to the Hoover Dam” to cut its Internet connection if the government learns of a cyber attack.

“What’s unclear, however,” the article says, “is how the government would have any idea when a cyber attack was imminent or why the operator wouldn’t shutter itself if it detected a looming attack.” Good questions.

Collins insists that the bill would not create a threat to free speech like the situation in Egypt, where the embattled Mubarak government has tried to shut down the Internet. We have her word on it.


Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.