A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Internet Access Denied?

Q: Is Obama seeking power to "disconnect your computer, shut down your favorite websites, or block your email"?

A: A Senate bill would allow the president to restrict access to government or "critical infrastructure" networks in case of a "cybersecurity emergency." But it has bipartisan support, and even critics admit it would not allow him to shut down all private Internet traffic.


Concerning the S. 773 bill in the Congress – Would it enable the federal government to shut down my access to the Internet and/or restrict access to certain sites?

Even outside of periods of White House-declared "emergency," would this bill mandate that private-sector networks only be managed by government-licensed "cybersecurity professionals"?

Following is a copy of the chain e-mail that I received concerning this topic.

If a bill quietly sneaking its way through Congress passes, an email like this could be the last non-government message to ever hit your inbox.

In fact, someday you may even find yourself unable to log in to your email in the first place!

[EET ]

But Barack Obama and Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) want to make this nightmare a reality. That’s why Rockefeller recently introduced S. 773, "The Cybersecurity Act of 2009."

Initial cosponsors include Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

You see, the federal government is seeking sweeping new powers to "shut down" all private internet in the event of a "cybersecurity emergency" — a vague term that the President can define at his discretion.

And Rockefeller’s bill gives the federal government and Barack Obama just what they want.

That’s why this expansive new power grab should really be called "The Internet Takeover Bill."

I know what you’re thinking: Maybe this is just another Internet hoax.

I wish it were.

Use a search engine like Google to find "S.773" and see the complete text of this bill at any number of different websites. Once you find it, look at who sponsored the bill, which will be right at the beginning. Then look for the words "emergency" and "license" in the text of the bill. You can verify everything in this email with your own two eyes.

As you know, the Internet has developed into an independent sphere where 1st Amendment rights can still be (fairly) freely exercised.

It’s also become an important outlet for liberty-minded speech, cutting around the Obama-worship and corporate censorship of the mainstream media.

And we’ve already seen the Obama Administration’s reaction to any online speech they deem "fishy."

In July, the Administration called upon Americans to report their friends’ and neighbors’ emails to help Barack Obama silence the "disinformation" about the Obamacare bills in Congress.

Well, now Barack Obama wants to cut out the middleman.

If the Internet Takeover Bill passes, Barack Obama can silence his dissenters directly — by ordering a shutdown of all Americans’ access to the Internet.

That’s right. Under this bill Barack Obama can order all non-government U.S. networks to shut down access to the Internet.

But that’s not all.

Even outside of periods of White House-declared "emergency," this bill mandates that private-sector networks only be managed by government-licensed "cybersecurity professionals."

If you think dealing with your office IT department is bad now, just wait until they’re federally licensed bureaucrats.

And God forbid you like to visit websites that spread "fishy disinformation" like free market healthcare solutions. Passing socialized medicine could soon become enough of an "emergency" for Barack Obama to shut them down.

You know, for the public good.

Today, legislation like this has to sneak through Congress quietly. They know Americans are no longer willing to swallow this "for our own good" swill.

Can you imagine how easily those in power could fabricate an "emergency" whenever a strong liberty candidate threatening the establishment tries to schedule a large fund-raiser?

Or how about message boards vital to planning freedom rallies, protests of socialized medicine, or any other activity protected by the 1st Amendment?

With "right-wing extremists" freely and visibly exercising their 2nd Amendment rights at such events, no doubt the White House could declare an "emergency" and shut down all online planning.

I don’t want to see demonstrations of liberty extinguished. I hope you don’t either.

We need to fight to make sure Barack Obama and the federal government can’t possibly disconnect your computer, shut down your favorite websites, or block your email. We need to stay educated and active. We need to try to stop this power grab. We need to defend our rights.

Verify everything in this email; it will only take a minute or two. Then, please consider forwarding this on to friends and family and anyone else you think might be interested. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

"I am sick and tired of people who say that if you debate and you disagree with this administration somehow you’re not patriotic. We should stand up and say we are Americans and we have a right to debate and disagree with any administration."
— Hillary Clinton – April 28, 2003 [/EET]


The Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (S. 773) was introduced in the Senate on April 1 by Democratic Sen. John "Jay" Rockefeller IV of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.

The e-mail describes it as an "expansive new power grab" by Obama; the truth is the measure has bipartisan support, even beyond Sen. Snowe’s cosponsorship. It is supported by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan organization whose board of trustees includes former Sen. (and Republican National Committee chairman) Bill Brock and former Republican Senate Leader Bill Frist, as well as former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, who chairs the board. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is also a trustee.

Furthermore, even a prominent critic of the bill tells us that the e-mail is "wrong" to claim that the measure "targets all private traffic, specific websites or email senders."

S. 773

Rockefeller and Snowe said they introduced the bill to "address our nation’s vulnerability to cyber crime, global cyber espionage, and cyber attacks that could potentially cripple the United States’ critical infrastructure."

The bill is a response to concerns outlined last year in a report by Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Titled "Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency," the report says that "cybersecurity is now a major national security problem for the United States." The commission urged the incoming president to "create a comprehensive national security strategy for cyberspace" to defend against foreign intelligence agencies, militaries, criminals and others, while also respecting individual privacy and civil liberties.

As introduced, S. 773, among other things, would allow the president to "declare a cybersecurity emergency and order the limitation or shutdown of Internet traffic to and from any compromised Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information system or network" (emphasis added). It would also allow the president to "order the disconnection of any Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information systems or networks in the interest of national security."

The bill didn’t go over well with some civil liberties groups that said it could enable a president to take control of information systems run by banks, energy companies or telecommunications firms under the heading of "critical infrastructure." One of these groups is the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a "donor-funded nonprofit" that describes itself as the "first line of defense" when "our freedoms in the networked world come under attack." EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick wrote that the bill "risks giving the federal government unprecedented power over the Internet without necessarily improving security in the ways that matter most. It should be opposed or radically amended."

Granick, April 10: Essentially, the Act would federalize critical infrastructure security. Since many of our critical infrastructure systems (banks, telecommunications, energy) are in the hands of the private sector, the bill would create a major shift of power away from users and companies to the federal government. This is a potentially dangerous approach that favors the dramatic over the sober response.

Granick also expressed concern over some specific parts of the bill, like a provision giving the secretary of commerce "access to all relevant data concerning (critical infrastructure) networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access." She said such a provision could "eviscerate statutory protections for private information."

"Not an Obama Plot"

But even EFF’s Granick says the author of the e-mail is wrong about what the bill would actually allow the president to do and whom it targets.

"The email is incorrect that the state of emergency allows the shut down of all private internet traffic," Granick told us in an e-mail. "It allows the shut down of federal or critical infrastructure networks." This could include some private networks, Granick said, but they would have to be outlined as "critical infrastructure" in advance. "So the email is right that this could be unbelievably broad, but wrong that it targets all private traffic, specific websites or email senders."

Supporters also say the bill wouldn’t give the president power to shut down "message boards vital to planning freedom rallies (or) protests of socialized medicine," as the e-mail claims. Nor would it allow a president to deny access to e-mail. "Rockefeller-Snowe has nothing to do with content or e-mail," says James Lewis, a senior fellow and director of the CSIS Technology and Public Policy Program. He told FactCheck.org that "the bill is designed to increase our ability to defend the nation’s networks, something we haven’t done very well." He said the bill would clarify the president’s ability to defend networks in the case of a national emergency.

"The administration is pretty clear, with its net neutrality initiative, that it wants to keep Internet access completely open," Lewis said. "The White House isn’t sure if it wants this particular bill. So it is not an Obama plot."

Obama’s Promises

For the record, the president says he has no intention of trying to monitor the content of private Internet traffic and promises to keep the Internet "open and free." He outlined the administration’s vision for a "new comprehensive approach to securing America’s digital infrastructure" during a speech in May. In addition to stating the administration’s goals, Obama said:

Obama, May 26: Let me also be clear about what we will not do. Our pursuit of cybersecurity will not – I repeat, will not include monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic. We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans. Indeed, I remain firmly committed to net neutrality so we can keep the Internet as it should be open and free.

It’s also worth mentioning that the bill hasn’t made it out of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, where it has been since it was introduced. And a spokeswoman for the committee told us that it’s important to note that the bill is just a "working draft."

Certification Requirement To Boot?

Our reader also asked us whether the bill would require that private networks be managed by "government-licensed ‘cybersecurity professionals,’ " as the e-mail claims. "If you think dealing with your office IT department is bad now, just wait until they’re federally licensed bureaucrats," the e-mails says.

As introduced, the bill would require the licensing of some individuals – but only those people providing services to the federal government or for an information system deemed "critical" by the president.

"It would require some certification of security skill for people who write code to sell to the government or to critical infrastructure," CSIS’ Lewis said. "It would not affect other code-writing, like commercial websites or private coders."

Here’s the language of the bill as it was originally written:


(a) IN GENERAL- Within 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Commerce shall develop or coordinate and integrate a national licensing, certification, and periodic recertification program for cybersecurity professionals.

(b) MANDATORY LICENSING- Beginning 3 years after the date of enactment of this Act, it shall be unlawful for any individual to engage in business in the United States, or to be employed in the United States, as a provider of cybersecurity services to any Federal agency or an information system or network designated by the President, or the President’s designee, as a critical infrastructure information system or network, who is not licensed and certified under the program.

Lewis said "there is some legitimate debate over certification," such as how it would work and exactly to whom it would apply. But, he said, "certification is necessary. … We don’t let anyone, say they are a doctor (or a plumber for that matter), [work] until they’ve been certified. The same should be true for software used in national security applications."

— D’Angelo Gore


U.S. Senate. "S. 773, Cybersecurity Act of 2009." (as introduced by the Senate 1 Apr 2009.)

Office of Olympia Snowe, U.S. Senator for Maine. "Senator Snowe and Chairman Rockefeller Introduce Comprehensive Cybersecurity Legislation." Press Release. 1 April 2009.

Condon, Stephanie. "A bill to shift cybersecurity to White House." CNET News. 20 March 2009.

Granick, Jennifer. "Federal Authority Over the Internet? The Cybersecurity Act of 2009." Electronic Frontier Foundation. 10 Apr 2009.

Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency." CSIS Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th President. Dec 2008.

White House. "Remarks by the President on Securing Our Nation’s Cyber Infrastructure." Office of the Press Secretary. 26 May 2009.

Lewis, James. Center for Strategic and International Studies. E-mail sent to FactCheck.org. 22 Oct 2009.

Lewis, James. Center for Strategic and International Studies. Interview with FactCheck.org. 22 Oct 2009.

Granick, Jennifer. Electronic Frontier Foundation. E-mail sent to FactCheck.org. 22 Oct 2009.