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Obama clarifies plan to keep the internet running during emergencies in executive order

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President Barack Obama has signed an executive order that codifies how US telecommunications networks will be kept intact in a national emergency or natural disaster.

Obama Serious (White House Flickr)
Obama Serious (White House Flickr)

President Barack Obama has signed an executive order that changes the way the US deals with telecommunications in the event of an emergency. "Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions" codifies the steps that agencies need to take in order to make sure that communications networks will keep running in the event of a natural disaster or national security emergency. Taking as its basic premise that "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," it assigns various agencies to advise the President, propose testing and redundancy requirements, or outline general emergency preparedness rules.

Much of the order seems designed simply to unify several existing policies and to update them with language that's more inclusive of present-day technology. Critics, however, have pointed to Section 5.2, which says that the Secretary of Homeland Security will "oversee the development, testing, implementation, and sustainment" of emergency measures on systems that include private "non-military communications networks." They've claimed this gives Obama "control over the internet" beyond the general ability to suspend communications in extreme cases, which presidents have had for some time.

An existing order repealed by the new plan, however, already says that the federal government must be "capable of satisfying priority telecommunications requirements under all circumstances through use of commercial, government and privately owned telecommunications resources," something that was also administered by the Secretary of Homeland Security.