INTRODUCTION OF THE PREVENTING UNWARRANTED COMMUNICATIONS SHUTDOWNS ACT; Congressional Record Vol. 166, No. 182
(Extensions of Remarks - October 23, 2020)

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[Extensions of Remarks]
[Page E982]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




INTRODUCTION OF THE PREVENTING UNWARRANTED COMMUNICATIONS SHUTDOWNS ACT

                                 ______
                                 

                           HON. ANNA G. ESHOO

                             of california

                    in the house of representatives

                        Friday, October 23, 2020

  Ms. ESHOO. Madam Speaker, I'm proud to introduce the Preventing 
Unwarranted Communications Shutdowns Act, a bipartisan bill to limit 
presidential powers to control or shut down communications networks, 
including the internet.
  The American people rely on the internet for nearly every aspect of 
their personal and professional lives and this dependence has only 
increased during the pandemic. As such, internet shutdowns are an 
extraordinary infringement of individual rights. Sadly, authoritarians 
in many countries have used internet shutdowns as a tool to squash 
rights. The public interest group Access Now reports that in 2019, the 
internet was shutdown at least 213 times.
  Section 706 of the Communications Act (47 U.S.C. 606) currently 
authorizes the President to take control of communications facilities 
or equipment in certain circumstances. While the internet is, by 
design, decentralized and cannot be `shut down,' this provision leaves 
open the possibility for a presidential order that leads to Americans 
not being able to access the internet.
  While this provision is codified as part of the Communications Act of 
1934, and it was amended in 1942 and 1951, the provision directly 
traces back to Section 2 of the Radio Act of 1912. President Woodrow 
Wilson used the authorities granted by the Radio Act during World War I 
in 1914 and 1918 with respect to telephone systems, radio stations, and 
marine cables. Earlier still, in February 1862, Congress gave President 
Abraham Lincoln the authority to take over telegraph lines during the 
Civil War.
  While historians can debate about whether these actions were 
warranted, they serve as an important basis for my rationale that the 
appropriate public policy measure to reform Section 706 is not to cut 
the power completely, but to add strict checks to it.
  The Preventing Unwarranted Communications Shutdowns Act limits the 
President's authorities and adds checks to any actions taken under 
section 706. In particular, my legislation limits the reasons the 
President may take action under Section 706 to ones necessary to 
protect against an imminent and specific threat to human life or 
national security, if such action is narrowly tailored and is the least 
restrictive means for the purpose; requires that the President notify 
congressional leaders (i.e., Speaker, House Minority Leader, and Senate 
Majority and Minority Leaders), senior executive branch officials 
(i.e., Vice President, department heads, intelligence community heads, 
Joint Chiefs of Staff), and the FCC before or not later than 12 hours 
after taking any action authorized under Section 706; nullifies Section 
706 orders 12 hours after issuance of the order if the President does 
not provide notification in the specified time and form; nullifies 
Section 706 orders 48 hours after the President provides notice unless 
three-fifths of each of the House and the Senate vote to pass an 
approval resolution, with an affirmative vote of at least one-quarter 
of the minority party in each chamber; requires a report by the 
Government Accountability Office (GAO) after every Section 706 order, 
and requires a one-time GAO report estimating the impact of a 
communication shutdown; and requires that the U.S. government 
compensate providers and customers of providers for any communications 
shutdown under Section 706.
  Unchecked executive powers and the emergency authorities of the 
President under Section 7-6 of the Communications Act need to be 
revisited. May there never be in a situation where these authorities 
are needed, but if there is, the representatives of the people should 
decide the scope and extent of any shutdown, not any single individual.
  I thank my colleague Congressman Morgan Griffith for partnering with 
me to introduce this important, bipartisan legislation, and I ask my 
colleagues to support it.

                          ____________________