September 23, 2020
Contact: Kelsey Cooper (Paul), 202-224-4343
Keith Chu (Wyden), 202-224-5244
Jay Bhargava (Peters), 202-235-4680
Haig Hovsepian (Gabbard), 202-225-4906
John Kennedy (Massie), 202-225-3465

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, U.S. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced the bipartisan ”Unplug the Internet Kill Switch Act of 2020” (S. 4646), which would help protect Americans’ First and Fourth Amendment rights by preventing a president from using emergency powers to unilaterally take control over or deny access to the internet and other telecommunications capabilities.

U.S. Representatives Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-2) and Thomas Massie (R-KY-4) led yesterday’s introduction of the companion legislation in the House (H.R. 8336).

“If you give government an inch, it takes ten miles, and this has been vividly illustrated by the surveillance state’s overreaches in a time of seemingly endless war. No president from either party should have the sole power to shut down or take control of the internet or any other of our communication channels during an emergency, and I urge Congress to follow our lead and unite to pass this bipartisan legislation,” said Sen. Paul.

“The internet is far too essential to nearly every part of our democratic system – everything from work, to school and free speech – for any president to have unilateral power to turn it off. It’s more important than ever to protect our core liberties against overreach by the executive branch, so I’m glad to be working with Senator Paul and Peters to make sure the internet is protected against political interference,” said Sen. Wyden.

“Whether it is learning how to protect yourself against the current pandemic, staying in touch with loved ones, or accessing medical and financial information – the internet is a critical source of information for Michiganders and all Americans,” said Sen. Peters. “This bipartisan legislation will help update our laws and ensure that no President has the power to unilaterally limit access to internet service for political reasons, without preventing the government from effectively responding to actual emergencies or attacks.”

“The oath that I took as a Soldier and as a Member of Congress was to support and defend our Constitution. The freedoms enshrined in our Constitution cannot be taken for granted. Our legislation would fix a WWII-era law that gives the president nearly unchallenged authority to restrict access to the internet, conduct email surveillance, control computer systems and cell phones. No President should have the power to ignore our freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and violate our civil liberties and privacy by declaring a national emergency,” said Rep. Gabbard.  

“When governments around the world turn off internet access, they do significant harm to their national economies and their citizen’s civil rights,” said Rep. Massie. “This bipartisan bill will ensure that no future American president can unilaterally trip an ‘internet kill switch.’ Americans do not have to accept the premise that one person can deprive them of their 1st Amendment rights by flipping a switch.”

In a World War II-era amendment to Section 706 of the Communications Act of 1934, Congress gave the Executive sweeping authority to put under direct government control or even shut down “any facility or station for wire communication” should a president “[deem] it necessary in the interest of the national security and defense” following a proclamation “that there exists a state or threat of war involving the United States. …”[i]

Cause for alarm over such power has only increased across the decades with the technological revolution, which has included email, text messages, and the internet, as well as the expansion of television, radio, and telephone networks.

The Unplug the Internet Kill Switch Act would amend Section 706 to strip out this “Internet Kill Switch” and help shut the door to broader government surveillance or outright control of our communications channels and some of Americans’ most sensitive information. The legislation would also reassert a stronger balance of power during a national emergency between the Executive Branch and the people’s representatives in Congress.

You can read the Unplug the Internet Kill Switch Act of 2020 HERE.


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