The chairman of the House’s investigating committee Tuesday criticized the popular peer-to-peer program LimeWire for failing to take steps to ensure that personal, corporate and government data can’t be easily obtained.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said that he was astonished with the ease with which the panel’s investigators obtained confidential information.
“We used the most popular P2P program, LimeWire, and ran a series of basic searches,” Waxman said in his hearing statement. “What we found was astonishing: personal bank records and tax forms, attorney-client communications, the corporate strategies of Fortune 500 companies, confidential corporate accounting documents, internal documents from political campaigns, government emergency response plans and even military operation orders.”
Waxman said that all the documents found were unpublished in the Microsoft Word document format using limited searches during the past month.
“It is truly chilling to think of what private information an organized operation or a foreign government could acquire with additional resources,” he said.
The information Waxman and his investigators found is often “inadvertently shared” when using P2P services to illicitly download music, movies and other copyrighted works.
Waxman’s investigation comes two years after copyright holders won a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court that found the Grokster P2P service illegally induced people to violate copyright laws. Although P2P services have faded from the news and congressional scrutiny, LimeWire and StreamCast both are being sued for copyright infringement by the record labels.
Although the trade group P2P United adopted a code of conduct designed to prevent inadvertent file-sharing, the lawmaker express concern with its effectiveness, especially with LimeWire and StreamCast.
LimeWire chairman and founder Mark Gorton defended his company, saying that it has taken steps to warn users of the risks associated with inadvertent file-sharing.
“At LimeWire, we continue to be frustrated that despite our warnings and precautions, a small fraction of users override the safe default settings that come with the program and end up inadvertently publishing information that they would (rather keep) private,” Gorton testified.
He assured the committee that the company was developing new technologies that would make it more difficult for new, uneducated users to accidentally share confidential information.
“These interfaces will make it even easier for users to see which files they are sharing and to intuitively understand the controls that are available to them,” he explained.
But even that is unlikely to be enough, and he urged lawmakers to take action themselves.
“The only institution in the United States with the power to mandate the creation of an effective enforcement mechanism to police the Internet is the United States Congress,” Gorton said.