We speak of the internet as if it were a tangible thing. Yet all parts of it—the photos, the porn, these very words—are simply ethereal, bits comprised of ones and zeros traveling along wires and into the very air around us.
With the threat of cyber-attacks on the rise and the increased usage of wireless signals to detonate bombs, could it all be shut down? That very question is why the Department of Homeland Security or DHS dreamed up Standard Operating Procedure 303 also known as “the internet kill switch.”
It would go something like this: a DHS official sits in some surely space-age monitoring station, playing the latest tablet game. An alert sounds, warning of an impending cyber-attack by China that will cripple the US financial system or maybe there’s a credible threat of a terrorist attack using remotely-detonated bombs. The DHS official springs into action—or perhaps simply slides a wheeled chair towards a console—and throws the switch, shutting down the internet and saving the day. So when the Electronic Privacy Information Center or EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act request about the kill switch, DHS claimed that it should be allowed to withhold the details because releasing the information “could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual” or “disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.”
According to The Washington Times, a United States District Court rejected those arguments and, although the DHS is able to appeal the ruling, must disclose Standard Operating Procedure 303. When EPIC originally filed their request, DHS said that the protocol didn’t exist, but later admitted it did when the group appealed. While other governments have shut down the internet in their countries, it remains unclear how something like that would be implemented in the US.