Lawmakers eye bill to make P2P file-sharing safer

Users would be told how their files might be shared

The House Committee on Commerce and Energy will hold a markup hearing Wednesday on a bill designed to make it safer for consumers to use peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing software.

The Informed P2P User Act (HR 1319) was introduced by Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) in March. It's designed to get developers of file-sharing apps to clearly explain to users whether and how their files will be made available for sharing with others on a P2P network.

The bill would make it illegal for P2P developers to make software that causes files from a computer to be inadvertently shared over a P2P network without a user's knowledge. It would also require the developers to clearly inform users about files that are being made available for searching and sharing, and would mandate that a user agree to the file-sharing first.

The measure would treat violations of the rule as a violation of the rules defining unfair and deceptive trade practices under the Federal Trade Commission Act. Mack's bill stems from mounting concern in Congress and elsewhere about the problem of inadvertent file sharing on P2P networks. Such leaks are believed to have resulted in a huge amount of highly confidential personal, business and medical data as well as sensitive and classified government data, becoming freely available on P2P networks.

In July, for instance, lawmakers heard how a vendor of P2P monitoring services had found details on a U.S. Secret Service safe house for the First Family -- to be used in a national emergency -- on a LimeWire file-sharing network. Robert Boback, CEO of Tiversa Inc. told committee members about how the company had also unearthed details on presidential motorcade routes and a sensitive but unclassified document listing details on every nuclear facility in the country on a LimeWire network. In January, Tiversa disclosed that it had found sensitive details about the president's Marine One helicopter sitting on a computer in Iran.

Those disclosures, nearly identical to ones made at a similar hearing two years ago, prompted the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to call for a ban on the use P2P software on all government and contractor computers and networks.

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