While healthcare reform has held the legislative spotlight for the last several months, Americans are being warned that another piece of legislation that is "very much alive" in Congress constitutes a significant threat to their personal liberties.
It was in early April when Senator John Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) introduced the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (S. 773) on the Senate floor. The legislation -- touted as necessary to "ensure the free flow of commerce within the U.S. and its global trading partners through secure cyber communications" -- would establish a new Cybersecurity Advisory Panel within the White House. It would also streamline the government's cybersecurity efforts and establish a clearinghouse for threat and vulnerability information. (See earlier article) The American Center for Liberty & Justice (ACLJ) acknowledges that certain sacrifices are necessary in protecting the nation's communications networks. But it questions the need for another aspect of the bill -- the section that grants new authority for 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." In other words, says the ACLJ, Rockefeller's bill "would grant the federal government virtually complete control over all electronic communication." "The devastating potential of this action on commerce is frightening, and pales only when compared to the political suppression that this kind of authority could lead to," states an ACLJ legislative alert posted on Tuesday. "The President and his administrative bureaucracy would be permitted to shut down all electronic communications with no notice and for any number of vaguely defined reasons," the alert continues. The ACLJ suggests the potential exists in S. 773 for political suppression similar to that demonstrated a few months ago when citizens in Iran used Twitter to broadcast the truth of post-election protests in that country -- despite a media blackout imposed by the Iranian government. "If Americans are stripped of the ability to use technology to communicate, our government might very well have the ability to stifle speech just as the Iranian government did," says the ACLJ. "While we are all concerned about national security, we must not stand by while our elected officials use scare tactics to trample our rights and take away our fundamental freedoms." Rockefeller's proposed legislation currently has three co-sponsors: Senators Evan Bayh (D-Indiana), Bill Nelson (D-Florida), and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).