Waxman probes P2P services


WASHINGTON -- One of Congress' most dogged investigators and chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is training his sights on peer-to-peer services.

Industry sources said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., has grown concerned over government, personal and corporate data that has become available to hackers as consumers use P2P services to get such content as music and movies.

"What drives people to these sites are the movies and music," one entertainment industry source said. "But when they get there, they open up their computers to lots of inadvertent sharing of government and personal data."

Waxman sent letters to LimeWire CEO Mark Gorton and StreamCast Networks CEO Michael Weiss asking them to explain what steps they've taken to ensure that users of the P2P services don't open up their computers to abuse.

The letters, the first steps in the investigation by Waxman's committee, come 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.

While P2P services have faded from the news and congressional scrutiny, LimeWire and StreamCast are being sued for copyright infringement by the record labels.

Waxman appears to want to delve into reports that such sensitive data as loan applications, bank statements, credit reporting agency records, user ID and password lists and tax returns get inadvertently "shared" with millions of people. There also have been reports of sensitive government information being distributed through P2P.

While the trade group P2P United adopted a code of conduct designed to prevent inadvertent file-sharing, the lawmaker seems to be concerned about its effectiveness.

"Inadvertent file-sharing may still be a significant problem," Waxman wrote. "On March 5, 2007, the United States Patent and Trademark Office released a report indicating that inadvertent file-sharing continued to threaten individual privacy and national security."

A committee aide said that Waxman's interest goes back at least to 2003, when a staff report on the issue was released. "It's really remarkable, the potential risks posed by these kinds of things," the aide said.

LimeWire said the company is ready to help explain what is going on with P2P.

"We have the greatest respect for Congressman Waxman and we look at the letter as an invitation to speak," the company said. "There is a lot of misconceptions about P2P networks that needs to be cleared up."

StreamCast declined comment.