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6/18/2003
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Senator: Give Movie And Record Companies A License To Hack

U.S. senator asks about tactics to damage computers used by illegal file swappers

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said on Tuesday that he'd be interested in learning ways to damage computers used to illegally swap song and movie files.

The comments came during a hearing on copyright abuse. Hatch was quoted by the Associated Press as saying he'd be interested in hearing about ways to disrupt file-swappers without destroying their systems, but if that couldn't be done then he'd be in favor of destroying their computers.

This isn't the first time legislators floated the idea of giving the recording and motion picture industries a license to hack. Lobbyists for those industries have sought the right to hack into and disable peer-to-peer trading networks, and they want legal protection against suits over damages done to the computer systems of file swappers.

Last summer, a bill sponsored by Reps. Howard Berman, D-Calif., and Howard Coble, R-N.C., would have made it legal for copyright holders to disable and disrupt publicly accessible file-trading networks. That bill was widely criticized, and within a day of its introduction the Recording Industry Association of America's Web site was knocked offline by a distributed denial-of-service attack.

But the Berman-Coble, RIAA-backed bill wouldn't have gone as far as Hatch suggested on Tuesday. That bill would have, in effect, make it legal for the music industry to hack illegal peer-to-peer file-sharing services with technical countermeasures such as sending a file-swapper corrupt or spoofed files that falsely appear to be a copyrighted work and even re-directing file-swappers to sites that don't contain the files they're seeking to download. The bill, however, would prohibit copyright holders from damaging systems or spreading malicious software, such as Trojans or viruses, to file-swappers' systems.

Legal and information-security experts say any hacking countermeasures used in the fight against copyright piracy would require exceptions from federal and state hacking laws. "It's ideas like this that make digital-rights management seem conservative," says Pete Lindstrom, research director at Spire Security. Lindstrom says there are huge technical challenges to being able to target the systems owned by illegal file-swappers. "To think that you could strike back with any degree of accuracy is completely misguided," he says. "It's crazy to think it's even possible."

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