October 23, 2020 - Issue: Vol. 166, No. 182 — Daily Edition116th Congress (2019 - 2020) - 2nd Session
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. ____________________