So Al Gore invented the Internet and Barack Obama could turn it off?

Word today of the latest draft of proposed Senate bill that would allow the president to temporarily assert control over the public Internet in the event of a so-called “cybersecurity emergency.”

CNET reports on the draft bill from West Virginia Democrat Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a revision of an earlier cybersecurity bill. It’s hard to say who should be more alarmed at this thought: individual Internet users, large companies that now rely on the Internet as the backbone of their communications or telecom service providers running Internet access points or relying on public net hops to drive their IP networks.

The bill would reportedly allow the president to declare an emergency in case of a large-scale attack on the Internet, including potentially asserting control over private, “non-governmental” computer networks to tamp down the threat.

The massive reach and impact of the Internet — touching on not just broadband communications but also on other crucial utility services such as the electrical power grid and more — calls for emergency authority to address cyber threats by all means necessary, according to the draft bill.

In another far-reaching section of the proposed bill, the government would be responsible for a “periodic mapping” of private networks to determine which ones are critical to national security. If a private net is deemed as such, an extra level of government reporting and oversight would apparently kick in, target, according to CNET, “who you can hire, what information you must disclose, and when the government would exercise control over your computers or network”

At TelephonyOnline and in the new Connected Planet, we are tracking the broad impact of networks on a wide variety of industries and solution areas. The nation’s networks are no longer used for just voice communications and simple Web surfing, as we all know. The catch-22 is that with an attack on those networks, there is now much more to lose.

That certainly calls for government vigilance and maybe even some oversight. The challenge will be to find the proper balance while avoiding overly draconian — and perhaps just as worrisome, overly vague — governmental controls. With this proposed bill still in draft form, it’s an issue that bears watching.

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