The Cybersecurity Act of 2009
May 28, 2009
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The Cybersecurity Act is actually not yet an Act. It is a bill introduced in the US Senate as S.773 by senators Rockefeller, Bayh, Nelson, and Snowe on the 1st of April. As of now it is under consideration by the Senate. S.773 has some astounding similarities to the UIGEA.
The UIGEA was a part of the larger Safe Ports Act. The Safe Ports Act was intended to strengthen the country’s ports and other infrastructure from being used by terrorists pursuant to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. The UIGEA did not directly hold Internet gambling to be a legal. It simply legislated that financial institutions could not transfer funds to illegal Internet gambling sites. There was no clarity or definition of what constituted illegal Internet gambling sites. But the Department of Justice has been empowered to act against those financial institutions that transfer funds to illegal Internet gambling sites. The net effect is that Internet gambling is deemed illegal and that overseas Internet gambling service providers are unable to access the American Internet gambling market. This has pitted America against the European Union and others who have claimed that America has violated international agreements.
Now the same thing is repeating with the S.773. The objective of this proposed act is to ensure “the continued free flow of commerce within the United States and with its global trading partners through secure cyber communications”. The corollaries to this objective are to develop the Internet communications, to create a cadre of information technology specialists and, what is relevant to this discussion, to maintain effective cyber security defenses against disruption. The last part stated more simply means to make sure that the Internet is secured against hacking, especially of sensitive government and commercial sites, by politically motivated outsiders. Or in other words this means to prevent Internet terrorism.
No one can deny that this objective is not only laudable but necessary. However, as in the case of the Safe Ports Act, the powers given to the government are subject to misuse. S.773 proposes that the government through the President be empowered to take the following steps. The President may declare a cyber security emergency and order the shutdown of a part of the whole of Internet traffic. This could happen when any system connected to the Internet gets compromised because of hacking. The President would have to designate an agency that would be responsible for responding to such an eventuality. The President could also appoint agencies that would be responsible for issuing the shutdown instructions on his behalf. S.773 does not clarify or define what these emergencies could be. In the extreme case the government could ask Internet gambling operators to shut down not because Internet gambling is illegal but because it is of the view that Internet gambling operations are a threat to cyber security. This is very much like asking financial institutions to stop fund transfers to Internet gambling operators because of the fear that terrorists use such operations to transfer large sums of illegal money.
As in the case of the UIGEA the repercussions of shutting down the Internet within the United States would assume international dimensions. International transactions that do not concern the United States may still be routed through the United States because of the nature of the technology. Such transactions would come to a standstill. So would commercial transactions. This will definitely result in other countries raising a hue and cry.
As can be seen from the above arguments S.773 has the makings of turning into another UIGEA. So far the reactions against this bill have come from users of the Internet in general. But given the attitude of a large number of state governments in the United States towards Internet gambling, it would be in the interest of the Internet gambling community that opposition to the Bill is made known as soon as possible.