Experts Say US Internet Kill Switch Highly Unlikely

Dennis Faas's picture

Events in Egypt have shown how a citizenry will react when a government attempts to shut off local Internet access. Since then, there's been considerable discussion as to whether this could happen in the U.S., but experts say that even if such a move were legally possible, it would be practically unworkable.

Connections between Egyptian computers and the outside world were cut off for a little over a week, almost certainly under government orders in an attempt to limit communications between protestors. It led to some creative responses from the public, ranging from using dial-up connections to other countries, to spreading messages in person.

US Legislation Back On Table

By a strange coincidence, the events in Egypt came just days after U.S. senators introduced the Cyber Security and American Cyber Competitiveness Act.

At the moment, the bill is simply a "placeholder" that states the need for government powers to protect the security of the Internet. However, it's thought it may be designed to pave the way to bring back some of the powers contained in a previous attempt at legislation from last year.

That bill would have given the federal government the power to shut down privately-controlled infrastructure, including elements of the Internet. It would have allowed officials to do this for 30 days, with an option of extending it to 120 days; after this, Congress would have to grant further approval.

It's notable the authors of last year's bill have criticized the Egyptian government's actions and stressed their legislation is only designed for situations where there is a genuine cyber-terrorism security threat. Opponents say the proposed law doesn't contain enough protections to prevent such abuse. (Source:

Practical Limitations to Consider

While the original opposition to the U.S. proposals was political, events in Egypt have led critics to question whether such a system would be practically possible. There appear to be three main obstacles to the U.S. carrying out a total shutdown across the country:

The first is the sheer size of the U.S. Because the Internet is actually made up of multiple networks, there would be far more individual points that the U.S. government would have to shut down than in Egypt.

Secondly, some of the physical networks of cables used for Internet services in the U.S. are owned by foreign countries. That would create substantial legal questions about the government's authority to close these connections.

Finally, the economic consequences of cutting the cord are immense: in the 21st century, no Internet effectively means no stock market and severely restricted banking services.

Given that the U.S. is considerably larger and more market-driven than Egypt, even a week without such facilities seems almost unimaginable. (Source:

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