Americans—who primarily use the internet to communicate with friends, trade pictures of our latest vacation or a child's birthday, to shop and organize and operate our businesses—generally don't want government meddling in a technology that's increasingly imbedded in our lives.
Yet few appreciate just how high the stakes are.
Many wonder if something similar to the Internet shut-down in Egypt could happen in the US. It seems very unlikely, given the vast complexity and the multitude of Internet providers that manage the US broadband network. However, some have proposed legislation for a virtual Internet “Kill Switch” in the United States, which would give the President the power to declare a “cyber-emergency,” forcing private Internet providers from disconnecting networks “crucial to our nation’s infrastructure.”
The legislative proposal by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), introduced last summer, would even deny to Internet providers the right to fight in court against the regulations, which could include intrusive obligations for mandated updates and compliance. The “Kill Switch” is justified as necessary to contain an act of cyber-warfare, but it's worth pausing to consider how else a government—yes, even the U.S. government—could use such power.
The “Kill Switch” is just one attempt to increase government's control over cyberspace. Another set of intrusive regulations over Internet provider’s network management, called “net neutrality,” was imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in December.
The FCC issued these rules in defiance of Congress and the courts. Aside from curbing innovation and introducing a tremendous amount of uncertainty for Internet providers, the biggest danger of the net neutrality rules is that they’re only the first step down a slippery slope in Internet regulation. They set a dangerous precedent for government assertions of nearly boundless authority over the Internet.
Freedom is the foundation of the Internet. Allowing the government to assert uncontested authority over this tremendously important medium of communication puts us at greater risk of abuse from censorship and persecution. America is a long way from Egypt or Iran, but why would we want to head in that direction?