Congress debates whether P2P users should be warned like cigarette smokers

Literally millions of unauthorized documents -- some of them personal, easily too many of them classified -- have made their way freely through P2P networks, many of them without any malicious user whatsoever even requesting or copying them. Sometimes, literally, they just show up. If the problem isn't P2P itself but the people using it, then shouldn't the users of P2P services be given warnings? That's the question being tackled by the US House of Representatives today.

H.R. 1319 or "The Informed P2P User Act" was heard today by the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection. The bill seeks to curb the inadvertent disclosure of tax information, health records, and confidential or personal documents over peer-to-peer file sharing networks.

"In the past, we have tried to rely on voluntary self-regulation, and it has failed," said Thomas D. Sydnor, Director of the Center for the Study of Digital Property, Progress & Freedom Foundation. "Unfortunately, in the context of distributors of file sharing programs used mostly for unlawful purposes, voluntary self-regulation has been tried, it has failed miserably in the past, and I can report that it is failing again right now."

The Informed P2P User Act would make it mandatory for file sharing software to provide "clear and conspicuous notice that such program allows files on the protected computer to be available for searching and copying by another computer," both upon installation and upon initialization of file sharing. It also would require that the user be allowed to block incoming transmissions and be provided with "a reasonable and effective means to disable or remove from the protected computer any peer-to-peer file sharing program or function thereof that the person...installed."

The Bill's sponsor, Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R - Calif., the widow of Congressman Sonny Bono) this afternoon said, "Any set of voluntary best practices put forth by the P2P industry can no longer be seen as credible. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, he said 'You want me to believe you and your voluntary measures instead of my own two eyes?'"

LimeWire remains the primary impetus for this bill, with numerous witness testimonies today discussing data breaches within LimeWire. Last week, Lime Group Chairman Mark Gorton listed all of the changes in LimeWire 5 in a letter to Congress, but supporters of the bill find these to be insufficient. Rep. Mack went so far as to call P2P software injurious to the American consumer.

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