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House Panel OKs Bill To Protect Government From File-Sharing Risks

The Government Network Security Act of 2003, which now goes to the full House, would require federal agencies to develop plans to protect government PCs from the risks of file sharing.

The House Committee on Government Reform on Thursday approved the Government Network Security Act of 2003, which requires federal agencies to develop and implement plans to protect the security and privacy of government computers from the risks posed by peer-to-peer file sharing. If enacted, federal agencies would have six months to develop and implement these plans. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, would have an additional year to review the plans and report to Congress on the results of the review, along with any recommendations.

Peer-to-peer file-sharing programs--apps that lets users share electronic files from other users on the same network--can be downloaded free of charge and permit the sharing of files containing documents, music, or videos. An investigation conducted by the committee revealed that file-sharing programs such as Kazaa, Grokster, and iMesh create security and privacy risks for computers and the information they contain. At a hearing in May, the committee learned that its staffers easily obtained tax returns, medical records, confidential legal documents, and business files through a couple of simple searches on one file-sharing program.

"While most of the news coverage on file sharing focuses on the ability of users to illegally trade copyrighted music, movies, and videos, another less-publicized dark side to this technology is the risk it poses to the security of computers and the privacy of electronic information," committee chairman Tom Davis, R.-Va., said in a statement earlier this week when he introduced the legislation with ranking minority member Henry Waxman, D.-Calif. "Few people recognize these risks. Using these programs is similar to giving a complete stranger access to your personal file cabinet."

The bill, which goes to the full House for consideration, applies to the executive branch. The bill's sponsors say Congress already has implemented plans to mitigate risks regarding to peer-to-peer file sharing.

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