Thursday, July 1, 2010

An “Internet Kill Switch”??? Let’s check the facts first..

At the just completed ALA Annual meeting, I was expecting a great many conversations around SaaS, Hosting Services, Web Scale and Cloud Computing. I wasn’t disappointed. However, I was surprised when more than one person asked me about the implications for libraries and such services in light of a perceived recent political appeal for what some are calling an “Internet Kill Switch” (i.e. the ability for the Federal government to literally turn the Internet/Web off). Why was I surprised? Because at a national conference of librarians I would expect people to do some quick fact checking before jumping into a discussion that has clearly been stirred into a partisan debate for political purposes (but alas, I guess we're all susceptible at times).

First some facts:
  1. Yes, Senator Joseph Lieberman and others have created a bill entitled the “Protecting Cyberspace as National Asset Act” (and now called the Lieberman-Collins Bill). You can read a summary, or the full text here. Please note there is no mention of the words “Internet Kill Switch” in this Act or Bill, nor does it provide this capability.
  2. This article quotes Lieberman himself as pointing out “The President will never take over – the government should never take over the Internet.”
  3. The bill has not been passed into law, it is awaiting consideration before the Senate; i.e., it is a long way from becoming a law.
  4. As this InformationWeek article points out, there is ALREADY such a law in existence and on the books. It’s the Communications Act of 1934 as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. So, there is nothing new here.
I think this story requires the application of some basic logic and reasoning on our part. Clearly the Internet/Web is tightly interwoven into the fabric of our daily lives. As a result, shutting it down would wreak havoc on national and international levels. Yes, we all know cyber-attacks are a reality. They occur daily by the thousands. Clearly, attacks on key infrastructure or government sites are a major concern and, as such, the ability to wall off select sites at select times might make sense and should be possible. But this is not the same thing as shutting down the Internet or Web. Should the government ever try to do this (and succeed) I quite frankly think we’d all be occupied with far, far greater problems and concerns than the fact that our cloud-based library automation services weren’t available.

Please note that I’m not saying this bill doesn’t deserve close monitoring and possible action to let our politicians know how we feel. That’s always a good idea in a democracy. I just think it’s far more important that, before we react, we use our librarian training and check the details, check our sources and discern what is the quality of the information to be used in deciding how to proceed. Finally, let’s apply some common sense and reasoning to what we’re hearing and then make as informed a decision as possible.

In our society today I know that the extreme factions get far more coverage and publicity than the reasoned middle. However, libraries and librarians are part of society as well and part of our job is to provide quality information for advancing informed learning and knowledge.

We need to do that not just for our users, but also for ourselves.