While speaking at the University of Connecticut Thursday about the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, Sen. Joseph Lieberman was interrupted by members of Occupy UConn who challenged his support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Students interrupted Lieberman as he was discussing the innovations the Internet has spurred in communications and commerce.
Members of Occupy UConn called for a mic check—a method used by the Occupy movement to air grievances against the political elites or to convey a message.
“We are interrupting you Senator Lieberman,” the crowd shouted, following the lead of UConn senior Colin Neary. “We’re reclaiming the voices of soldiers and civilians who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Dean of Engineering Mun Y. Choi and Lieberman repeatedly asked the crowd scattered across the room to stop and offered to answer their questions afterward. But the shouting continued as Lieberman exchanged words with several of the more vocal students.
“Seriously folks, when does it end?” Lieberman asked. “Did you come to ask questions or did you just come to be disruptive?”
Lieberman said he did not want to have them escorted out, saying he respected their views and their right to free speech.
“I don’t want you out of here,” Lieberman said. “I don’t want to do it.”
“I want you out of here,” one student shouted.
“Really? You are so respectful,” Lieberman said.
After about ten minutes of shouting, the protesters quieted and allowed Lieberman to finish his speech.
Lieberman spoke about how hackers from China and other countries steal billions of dollars in intellectual property from private companies.
The Cybersecurity Act, he said, would protect our economy by allowing private companies access to the latest innovations in cybersecurity, while requiring them to maintain a high standard of security.
“Companies operating in cyberspace need to meet certain standards,” Lieberman said.
“We do need the law to protect us very often from chaos,” Lieberman said. “And so it goes with cyberspace.”
He added that some of the act’s more controversial language had been removed, including a section that some critics claim would create a “kill switch,” allowing the president to cut off Internet.
Neary said that even though the clause had been removed, he is still opposed to the bill.
“Private companies already have access to quality cybersecurity,” Neary said. “This law will make it easier for the government to monitor citizens.”
Lieberman began his speech with an anecdote about a meeting between several senators and the leaders of the February 2011 uprising in Tunisia that eventually unseated dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
He was surprised, he said, when they asked if he could introduce them to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
“Mark Zuckerberg was the creator of – if I can put it this way – the weapons they used to liberate themselves,” Lieberman said.
Prior to the speech, Lieberman toured UConn’s Center for Information Assurance and Computer Systems Security and spoke with faculty members about their research, promising to secure more funding for the center before leaving office.
Choi, introduced Lieberman, called him a “stalwart proponent of higher education” and praised him for his work.
Before the formal speaking engagement began, Choi asked if there were any members of Occupy UConn in the audience. Only one person spoke up.