Leaked House Ethics document spreads on the Net via P2P

Document lists dozens of lawmakers under scrutiny for conduct violations

A document containing the names of more than two dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives who are being scrutinized for conduct violations is starting to get widely distributed over the Internet after being leaked on a peer-to-peer network earlier this week.

Tiversa Inc., a Cranberry Township, Penn.-based company that offers a P2P network monitoring service said that since news of the leak broke earlier this week it has seen the file at multiple locations including London, Toronto, Washington, Los Angeles, Texas and New York.

"Since this story broke we have been investigating and [have] confirmed that the file is available on P2P networks," said Scott Harrer, brand director for Tiversa.

The Washington Post on Thursday said that it had obtained a document listing the names of dozens of House members who are being scrutinized by ethics investigators for activities related to defense lobbying and influence peddling. The confidential document was prepared in July by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, which is also called the Ethics Committee.

Among those on the list are several top congressional Democrats, including California Reps. Maxine Waters and Laura Richardson, and Charles Rangel of New York. Typically the names of those being scrutinized for ethics and other violations are not publicly disclosed by the Ethics Committee unless there is a formal investigation into potential rule violations.

The Post said it obtained the documents from a third party not connected with the House investigation after the document was leaked onto the Internet.

House members said the confidential document had been leaked as a result of a cyberhacking incident.

However, a statement issued yesterday by the Ethics Committee said the leak was not caused by an intrusion of the House or the committee's information systems. Rather, a preliminary investigation showed the document was leaked by a junior staffer who had installed P2P software on a personal computer on which the document was stored.

The document containing the names of those under the ethics probe was one of several that were leaked by the staffer, who has since been fired, the statement noted.

"The Standards Committee is taking all appropriate steps to deal with this issue and is working with House Information Security to ensure that the Standards Committee's information systems remain secure," the statement said.

The incident is only the latest in a series of spectacular data leaks that have occurred on P2P networks over the past several months and has caught the attention of lawmakers in a major way.

In July, for instance, members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee heard how Tiversa had found a document containing details on presidential motorcade routes and a U.S. Secret Service safehouse for the first family on a LimeWire file-sharing network.

In January, details about the president's Marine One helicopter were found sitting on a computer in Iran, while last month some 200 sensitive military documents were found leaked on P2P networks.

Such disclosures have prompted calls for rules banning the use of P2P in government. One bill would force P2P software makers to include controls to prevent inadvertent file-sharing.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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