(NECN: Brian Burnell) - As protests against the Hosni Mubarak regime raged in Egypt late last month Internet and cell phone service there slowed to a crawl. It was no accident. The demonstrators had been exchanging ideas and information for a long time on social networking sites and through Twitter and text messaging... organizing rallies using the Internet.
In an effort to crack down in late January, the government cut off nearly all Internet access and shut down cell service. And it could happen in America. Independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Susan Collins of Maine are two sponsors of a proposal being ominously referred to as an Internet kill switch. It would allow the President to cut off the Internet in the case of cyber attack.
Sandra Staub, CT ACLU: "This legislation is not to be trusted because its too broad."
Sandra Staub is the legal director of the Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. She says the President does have broad powers already in the case of a national emergency but this goes too far.
Sandra Staub, CT ACLU: "Looking at a kill switch in the way this seems to be so broadly defined is akin to going out on the street and stopping all the traffic and saying 'stop talking everybody'. That's the concern."
Proponents say the idea is to protect the country's economic infrastructure which is heavily integrated into the Internet. But shutting down the Internet would also restrict free speech and a move like that, says Staub, would have to be narrowly defined.
Sandra Staub, CT ACLU: "It's so broad that it could be used to quell the type of speech that lead to such a peaceful resolution in Egypt and my understanding of the way that worked a lot of it was on the Internet."