House votes to restrict file sharing at agencies

The House today passed legislation that would require agencies to develop policies to protect government systems from threats posed by peer-to-peer file sharing programs.

Reps. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman and ranking member respectively of the Government Reform Committee, introduced the Government Network Security Act of 2003, HR 3159, late last month and moved it through committee and the House in just two weeks.

'We learned that using these programs can be similar to giving a complete stranger access to your personal file cabinet,' Davis said. 'Installing these programs on government computers can cause sensitive information to be exposed to the public. Because files are shared anonymously on peer-to-peer networks, there is also a risk of the spread of viruses, worms and other malicious computer files.'

The bill would require each agency to develop and implement a plan to protect its systems, incorporating technology, policy and training, within six months of the bill's enactment. The comptroller general would report to the House and Senate on the results of the plans within 18 months of enactment.

Peer-to-peer networking is a technology that lets users with common software share files on their computers over proprietary networks or the Internet, in effect turning each computer into a server. It has gained its greatest notoriety in the distribution of copyrighted music, but it can be used to share any type of digital material stored on a computer.

The bill would not outlaw peer-to-peer file sharing, but would restrict its use.

'Innovations in peer-to-peer technology for government applications can be pursued on intragovernmental networks that do not pose risks to network security,' it says.

There is no companion bill in the Senate, but Davis' staff is working to get the Governmental Affairs Committee to introduce one of its own or consider the House version, said David Marin, Davis' spokesman.

GCN's William Jackson contributed to this story.

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