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Bill would restrict P2P use on government networks

House bill is in response to embarrassing data leaks

November 18, 2009 02:34 PM ET

Computerworld - House lawmakers introduced a bill that would restrict the use of peer-to-peer technology on government networks in response to several embarrassing data leaks.

The Secure Federal File Sharing Act would bar government employees and contractors from downloading, installing, or using file-sharing software on federal computers and those used by contractors for federal work, unless the use has been specifically approved.

The bill, introduced Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee, would also require the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to issue guidance on P2P use and to prohibit personal use of P2P software on government networks. P2P networks are widely used to share music, video and data files over the Internet.

The proposed legislation has been in the works for several weeks and is the result of heightened concerns in Congress about data leaks involving government and military data on file-sharing networks.

Several leaks this year have focused attention on the issue, often in sensational fashion.

In January, a vendor of P2P network monitoring services said it had found sensitive details about the president's Marine One helicopter in a computer in Iran that were leaked via a P2P network.

In July, the same company discovered documents describing safe house locations for the First Family, and presidential motorcade routes on a file-sharing network. Last month, a confidential document listing dozens of lawmakers under investigation for conduct violations was found on a P2P network.

In all the cases, the documents were inadvertently leaked from computers on which P2P software had been improperly installed. The bill seeks to address the problem by making it illegal for government workers to use P2P software in all but strictly approved cases.

Despite the intent, the proposed bill is likely to come as a disappointment for those opposed to such restrictions. There are many who believe that the problems associated with file-sharing software have more to do with the improper use of the technology rather than any inherent limitations in it.

Some groups, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), have said that a broad governmentwide restriction on P2P use would limit the government's ability to take advantage of potentially useful file-sharing tools such as BitTorrent. EFF has pointed to the use of such tools by video gaming companies and licensed music services as examples of how P2P tools can serve a useful purpose.

Read more about Security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.



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