Give Me (Internet) Liberty!

As the events in Egypt persist, one of the most egregious offenses of the current government has been the dismantling of Internet access and some mobile phone services. Here at Andover, social networking, Google and smartphones, are an integral part of daily life. For example, in the minutes before fourth period last Tuesday, when the snow day was announced, those with smartphones or other means of Internet access spread the word to anyone who would listen. They found a large audience not only in their classrooms, but through social networking as well. A little over a decade ago, Andover joined the technological revolution. If a student needs to find a homework assignment or access resources, it only takes a moment. While at their core places like PANet are for information, they have also made the administration, faculty, staff and student body more organized and efficient. The same phenomenon, albeit on a larger scale, has happened in Egypt. Through Facebook, Twitter, email and mobile phones, thousands of protesters in Egypt were able to efficiently organize protests on a massive scale, and help conceive other similar protests in neighboring Arab countries. In response, the Mubarak administration, which currently holds power in Egypt, has dismantled as much Internet access and mobile phone networking as possible in an attempt to kill protests at the root. While many bemoan the free speech ramifications of shutting down Internet access, there is an even more troubling course of events occurring here at home. The Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act was introduced to Congress in 2010, where it stalled. It has been brought back for 2011. At a very basic level, the idea is sound. In the event of a cyber-terrorist attack, the government should have some structure in place to protect national security. Yet the vague language of the bill has raised questions as to how its elasticity could lead to either Congress or the President taking drastic action in the event of cyberterrorism. Pundits claim that such a piece of legislation would give President Obama an “Internet-kill switch.” While not mentioned explicitly, the bill’s vagueness could stipulate something similar to an “Internet-kill switch” if Congress deemed it appropriate. Another aspect protects Internet regulation to safeguard national security from judicial review. If the bill passes, Congress can, at the very most shut down the Internet completely, and be immune from a Supreme Court investigation. With this power, Congress, hypothetically, would be able to impose Internet regulation or termination, disguised as “maintaining national security.” While cyberterrorist defenses should be implaced to safeguard the Pentagon, the C.I.A et cetera. Internet regulation free from judicial review would undermine the checks and balances in Washington, blurring the lines where Congressional power ends and judicial investigation begins. If passed, the precedents the bill would set are still unclear, but, in a worst case scenario, this piece of legislation could potentially lead to a shift of power in Washington, in addition to the effect of Internet regulation of free speech. Such an administration would look more and more like Hosni Mubarak’s reign in Egypt. Legislation to such an extent is unnecessary and un-American. National security can be protected without infringing upon American rights and principles. Ben Krapels is a three-year Upper from Andover, MA.