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Senate aides familiar with proposed legislation that would define the president’s power to deal with a cybersecurity emergency say the bill wouldn’t give the government sweeping control over the country’s digital infrastructure as some critics have claimed.
The controversy stems from language in a bill introduced in April by Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). The measure’s original language said the president could declare a cybersecurity emergency and order the “shutdown” of Internet traffic to and from government systems or networks and those considered critical infrastructure. In addition, the president could, in the interest of national security, order the disconnection of such networks or systems.
Many critics took that to mean the president would be able to shut down the Internet by declaring a cybersecurity emergency. But Senate aides say the intention of the bill is to clarify the president’s authority to secure national cyber infrastructure from attack, which would be in line with the executive branch's existing power to lead response to national emergencies. Meanwhile, a second draft of the bill eliminates terms, such as “shutdown,” that fueled the controversy, according to one aide familiar with the legislation.