Thursday, June 17, 2010

Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset

The federal government would have “absolute power” to shut down the Internet under the terms of a new US Senate bill being pushed by Joe Lieberman, legislation which would hand President Obama a figurative “kill switch” to seize control of the world wide web in response to a Homeland Security directive.

“The legislation says that companies such as broadband providers, search engines or software firms that the US Government selects “shall immediately comply with any emergency measure or action developed” by the Department of Homeland Security. Anyone failing to comply would be fined,” reports ZDNet’s Declan McCullagh.

I don't know if this is true as I haven't yet done my own primary research, but the idea is an illuminating example of tyranny (the negation of liberty) in the name of some collective good. A collective good consisting of private things, not things publicly owned. Actually, the Internet isn't a "thing" at all - the concept is a shorthand name for how a bunch of individual assets behave and are connected to each other. Like an "economy": there really is no such thing as The Internet, it's just a name for how a bunch of real things (or real people) interact. (Don't agree? Does The Internet include pieces in Britain or Russia or China? Does The Internet stop at national (or state) boundaries? No, no more than an economy stops at arbitrary political boundaries. The federal government cannot control The Internet; all it can do is control individual assets, most of them privately owned.)

During a declared war, of course, many liberties are curtailed for the duration. That is one of the reasons it is so important for Congress to formally debate and vote on a declaration of war, and not just leave it to Presidential discretion.

Sure, the internet is a national asset. Actually it is a collection of privately-owned assets cooperating with each other that, in aggregate, can be viewed as a single thing by a metaphysical sleight-of-hand. I'm sure there are some publicly-owned pieces as well.

Our trees are national assets - they provide shade, cover for troops in the field, and generate some of the oxygen we breathe. Should the federal government be permitted to control the trees in your yard because some President decides national security, or some threat (like, perhaps, Dutch Elm Disease) endangers this particular "national asset"?

Surely our automobile fleet is a national asset. And some of the cars are publicly owned. But is there really a "thing" called our automobile fleet? Isn't it just a bunch of individual things that somebody decided to arbitrarily lump together as a form of shorthand? Are cars in a junk yard part of this "asset"?

Or your kids: certainly future adult citizens are national assets. If a plague of dirty jokes threatens the mental and spiritual well being of our kids should the President be able to take control of your kids?

Is there anything positive or productive in America that is not a "national asset"? If identification of some thing as a "national asset" justifies surrendering any liberties or rights we have regarding that thing, then there is no liberty, no personal property, not even our sovereignty over ourselves.

Absent a formal declaration of war. Congress, our elected representatives must vote on and declare war. And the war is for a limited time, only. Then everything returns to normal rights and liberties.

Does this sound paranoid? Only to those people who went berserk when the Bush Administration began intercepting overseas phone calls where one of the parties was an identified terror threat. We were told that Bush was "shredding the Constitution" and that policy would lead to elimination of all phone privacy for all citizens. When a Bush does it, it's a slippery slope to tyranny. But when a member of the other party does it, well that's nothing to worry about.

What do you think? Would it be different if a Republican Senator had proposed giving Bush the power to seize a "national asset" to protect it (and us)? x Is it OK when an angel, on the side of goodness and light, seizes your liberty, but bad when a devil, on the side of darkness and evil, does the same thing?

That's Manichean, a particular religion. Religion should not guide public policy.

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