Last week, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced the ‘‘Unplug the Internet Kill Switch Act of 2020’’ (S. 4646), which would help protect Americans’ First and Fourth Amendment rights by preventing a president from using emergency powers to unilaterally take control over or deny access to the internet and other telecommunications capabilities.
Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced the bipartisan bill last Wednesday.
“If you give government an inch, it takes ten miles, and this has been vividly illustrated by the surveillance state’s overreaches in a time of seemingly endless war. No president from either party should have the sole power to shut down or take control of the internet or any other of our communication channels during an emergency, and I urge Congress to follow our lead and unite to pass this bipartisan legislation,” said Sen. Paul.
“The internet is far too essential to nearly every part of our democratic system – everything from work, to school and free speech – for any president to have unilateral power to turn it off. It’s more important than ever to protect our core liberties against overreach by the executive branch, so I’m glad to be working with Senator Paul and Peters to make sure the internet is protected against political interference,” said Sen. Wyden.
U.S. Representatives Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-2) and Thomas Massie (R-KY-4) introduced companion legislation in the House (H.R. 8336) the next day.
In a World War II-era amendment to Section 706 of the Communications Act of 1934, Congress gave the Executive sweeping authority to put under direct government control or even shut down “any facility or station for wire communication” should a president “[deem] it necessary in the interest of the national security and defense” following a proclamation “that there exists a state or threat of war involving the United States. …”
Cause for alarm over such power has only increased across the decades with the technological revolution, which has included email, text messages, and the internet, as well as the expansion of television, radio, and telephone networks.
The Unplug the Internet Kill Switch Act would amend Section 706 to strip out this “Internet Kill Switch” and help shut the door to broader government surveillance or outright control of our communications channels and some of Americans’ most sensitive information. The legislation would also reassert a stronger balance of power during a national emergency between the Executive Branch and the people’s representatives in Congress.