House Reloads for New P2P Probe

Illegal file sharing over peer-to-peer messaging and collaboration networks has long been a concern of Congress, but now lawmakers are turning their attention to inadvertent P2P file sharing.

In what has become an annual rite of Congress, lawmakers plan yet another investigation of peer-to-peer services. Since the original Napster exploded onto the scene in 1999, Congress has held numerous hearings over issues related to file-sharing networks, ranging from wholesale copyright violations to pornography to colleges' seeming inability to curb piracy.

This time around, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is reopening a 2007 investigation into inadvertent file sharing on P2P networks in light of recent numerous reports of sharing of sensitive personal records and supposedly secure documents being found in P2P records. In the most notorious case, blueprints and the avionics package of President Obama's helicopter, Marine One, were found on a P2P network with an IP address in Iran. Investigators tracked the file to its original source, a defense contractor in Maryland.

The Today Show added to concerns about the security of P2P networks with a report that found more than 150,000 tax returns, 25,800 student loan applications and approximately 626,000 credit reports on a P2P network.

What does P2P file sharing mean for the network neutrality debate? Click here to read more.

The target of this year's congressional probe is Lime Wire, which distributes LimeWire, software used to create one of the largest remaining P2P networks that has survived Hollywood's onslaught of copyright violation lawsuits.
"While the most widely used P2P network-Lime Wire-is used by millions of people to unlawfully disseminate copyrighted music and movies, our Committee's investigation revealed that the software permitted access to many other files, including files containing confidential information belonging to government agencies and private citizens," Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Edolphus Towns wrote April 20 to Lime Wire Chairman Mark Gorton.
Gorton testified before the committee in 2007 that he had "no idea there was that amount of classified information out there or that there are people actively looking for that and looking for credit card information." He promised to make security changes in the company's software.
"However, it appears that nearly two years after your commitment to make significant changes in the software, LimeWire and other P2P providers have not taken adequate steps to address this critical problem," Towns wrote.
Towns then demanded that Gorton respond to a series of questions about the security of LimeWire software as part of the panel's investigation.
"We at Lime Wire understand that Internet safety is paramount, and we strive to offer peer-to-peer's most secure technology," a Lime Wire spokesperson told the Associated Press. "Our newest version, LimeWire 5.0, by default, does not share sensitive file types such as spreadsheets or documents. In fact, the software does not share any file or directory without explicit permission from the user."