Peer-to-peer protection bill introduced

A bill designed to protect people from the risks to security and privacy associated with computer-to-computer file-sharing programs has been introduced in the House.

The legislation, introduced March 5, would prohibit certain types of behavior on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks on computers and make them punishable as unfair or deceptive actions under consumer protection laws.

P2P programs let users easily share videos, music and other data, but have also been used to extract sensitive information from someone’s computer without the victim’s knowledge. P2P networks automatically search hard drives for files that are available for sharing, and the security risks associated with the programs have drawn concern from lawmakers.

The legislation would require the file-sharing programs to show users a “clear and conspicuous notice” that computer’s files could be made available to another computer if the program is used. It would require informed consent from the computer's owner immediately before the program is installed.

The measure would also require notice about which files will be made available and informed consent from the user before the initial activation of the file sharing program. The bill would also make it illegal to prevent the authorized user of a computer to block the installation of a P2P file-sharing program, disable or remove the program.

The bill was introduced by Reps. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), John Barrow (D-Ga.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) and has been referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee. 

A statement on Bono Mack’s Web site that announced the legislation mentioned recent reports that indicated P2P software was involved in a security breach with Marine One, the presidential helicopter, and an incident involving a Supreme Court Justice. During a congressional hearing on inadvertent file-sharing over P2P networks held in July 2007, a House committee heard about the extent of government data that was readily available and easily obtained on P2P networks.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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