Obama quietly gives gov’t control of US communications. Foreign press spooked while American press snoozes.
“President Obama has quietly issued an executive order that, in a state of emergency, prioritizes government communication over civilian.” So states CNN Newsroom (“Government re-prioritizing US communication,” July 9, 2012) in a sentence whose single adverb, “quietly,” resounds with unsettling connotations to complement its already unsettling informational content.
Dana Kerr elaborates for CNET:
President Barack Obama signed an executive order last week that could give the U.S. government control over the Internet. With the wordy title “Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions,” this order was designed to empower certain governmental agencies with control over telecommunications and the Web during natural disasters and security emergencies. Here’s the rationale behind the order: “The Federal Government must have the ability to communicate at all times and under all circumstances to carry out its most critical and time sensitive missions. Survivable, resilient, enduring, and effective communications, both domestic and international, are essential to enable the executive branch to communicate within itself and with: the legislative and judicial branches; State, local, territorial, and tribal governments; private sector entities; and the public, allies, and other nations. Such communications must be possible under all circumstances to ensure national security, effectively manage emergencies, and improve national resilience.”
…[C]ritics of the order are concerned with Section 5.2, which is a lengthy part outlining how telecommunications and the Internet are controlled…[They] say this gives Obama the on/off switch to the Web.
— Dana Kerr, “Obama Signs Order Outlining Emergency Internet Control,” July 10, 2012
Here’s a video report on the whole thing. Note that one of the interviewees, Amie Stepanovich of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, doesn’t agree that the term “total control” accurately describes the effect of the new order. But also note the reporting journalist’s observation that many are saying the order was not Obama’s to make, and should rightfully have gone through Congress.
Perhaps most unsettlingly, John Hudson at The Atlantic Wire notes that the whole situation is “spooking foreign journalists” but drawing a bizarre blank stare and silence from the American press:
President Obama’s recently signed executive order outlining emergency control of the Internet didn’t get much attention in the U.S. but it’s spooking foreign journalists…Without hedging, the Kremlin-backed news outlet Russia Today splashed the headline “Obama gives himself control of all communication systems in America” in a widely-retweeted article calling the order “the most far-reaching yet of any of his executive decisions.” In today’s Le Monde, the French newspaper calls it a “controversial decree” that advocacy groups say gives the Department of Homeland Security control over the “the Internet provided [to] the general public.” A similar article appeared in the German outlet Linke Zeitung. In Canada, the conservative newspaper Canada Free Press said the move was evidence of “Obama’s obsession with control” and called the July 6 order a secretive “Friday news dump.” Meanwhile, the Montreal-based research organization Centre for Research on Globalisation described the move as a seizure of power, saying Obama “has usurped all available forms of communication.”
…How threatening Obama’s new executive powers are is subject to debate. But what’s interesting is the disproportionate attention the order has gotten abroad compared with at home. While the executive order received rather sober coverage from CNET and National Journal’s tech blog following its release, it hasn’t gained traction in its natural home: The right-wing, Obama-averse blogosphere. As far as we can tell, the main source of domestic opposition to the bill stems from a short press release from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a DC-based research center, which says the order could allow the government to “disconnect communications traffic in times of national security.” But Redstate, Breitbart, Wall Street Journal: Nothing!
— John Hudson, “World Wants Obama’s Hands Off the Internet Off Switch,” July 11, 2012
He closes by observing that concern about the putative power of an on/off switch “appears to be the sole preoccupation of outsiders, not the people it would actually effect (i.e. Americans).”
Make of this what you will. But we will all certainly be hearing more about in coming weeks, since, as CNET’s Kerr points out, “After being published by the Federal Register, executive orders take 30 days to become law. However, the president can amend, withdraw, or issue an overriding order at any time.”