Shutting down the internet shouldn’t be so easy

On October 22, 2020, U.S. Representatives Anna Eshoo and Morgan Griffith introduced the ”Preventing Unwarranted Communications Shutdowns Act of 2020.” The bill would make it more challenging for the President of the United States to arbitrarily shut down the internet when there exists a “state of public peril” or a “national emergency.”

This legislation limits the cases where a president may shut down the internet to ensure that shutdowns occur only in response to a specific threat, and that the shutdown is narrowly tailored to the threat and is the least restrictive means to address that threat. Without these limits, the president would have too much power to unilaterally shut down the internet.

“Arbitrary internet shutdowns are increasingly being used to silence people around the world and restrict people’s ability to organize peaceful protests and assemblies” said Berhan Taye, Africa Policy Manager and Global Internet Shutdowns Lead at Access Now. “This bill protects the people of the United States from the perils of arbitrary internet shutdowns and introduces much needed checks and balances to limit these broad and unchecked shutdown powers.”

“Access Now has long sought to prevent internet shutdowns because they cause significant harm to people’s human rights, particularly their freedom of expression and assembly, by cutting them off from important communications channels and cutting their access to information,” said Eric Null, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now. “This legislation would significantly curtail the president’s ability to order such a shutdown, which is a huge step in the right direction.”