- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - A House committee is reopening its investigation of Internet services that let computer users distribute music and movies online amid reports the same software was exploited to gain unauthorized access to government and private data.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent letters Monday to the Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission and The Lime Group, which runs LimeWire, a popular file-sharing service. The letters, signed by chairman Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., and ranking Republican Darrell E. Issa of California, sought information about any such breaches and what the Obama administration and company are doing to protect against them.

Internet file-sharing links computers across the Internet and allows users to access files stored on any other computer within the network. In the past, these networks have been popular among people who distribute popular music, movies and commercial software without paying legally required copyright fees.

The House committee held hearings in 2007. The problem of pirated music has since declined due to rising popularity of legal services such as iTunes, concerns over the threat of personal lawsuits by the entertainment industry and efforts by colleges to limit illicit data traffic on their computer networks. LimeWire is the largest remaining such network popular among computer users.

Witnesses at the earlier hearings “easily obtained bank records, health records, military files, tax returns, corporate documents, and other highly sensitive private files via the LimeWire network,” Towns and Issa wrote to Mark Gorton, chairman of The Lime Group.

They recalled that Gorton told lawmakers he would make significant changes in the software to prevent inadvertent disclosures of personal or confidential information over the Internet service.

“However, it appears that nearly two years after your commitment to make significant changes in the software, LimeWire and other P2P (peer-to-peer) providers have not taken adequate steps to address this critical problem,” Towns and Issa wrote.

They cited press reports this year and last year of computer users making available the blueprints and avionics for Marine One, the president’s helicopter; more than 150,000 tax returns; 25,800 student loan applications; 626,000 credit reports and tens of thousands of medical files with names, addresses and Social Security numbers for patients with AIDS, cancer and mental illnesses.

Asked about the renewed investigation, LimeWire spokeswoman Linda Lipman responded, “We at LimeWire understand that Internet safety is paramount, and we strive to offer peer-to-peer’s most secure technology.” She said the company had worked with other P2P providers and regulators to develop and implement protections, including changes in default settings; file-sharing controls; shared folder configurations; and sensitive-file-type restrictions.

“Our newest version, LimeWire 5.0, by default, does not share sensitive file types such as spreadsheets or documents,” Lipman said. “In fact, the software does not share any file or directory without explicit permission from the user.”

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