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The Government's Loose Lips

A private research group told Congress today that mountains of sensitive government data are freely circulating on peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing services -- the successor applications to Napster, one of the iconic names of my adolescence. With some savvy searching, apparently, one can find documents locating every nuclear missile silo in the U.S., files containing family information for every master sergeant in the Army, lists of social security numbers, medical records and so forth -- the sort of stuff reporters couldn’t dream of obtaining with a Freedom of Information Act request.

Now, some in Congress appear ready to go after the file-sharing services, with lawmakers threatening all manner of investigations into such allegations as unfair trade practices. But focusing too much on the file-sharing services is misguided. Consider the case of Napster, which was forced to go legit and then saw its clientele rapidly move to other applications, demonstrating that regulating the development and functionality of such programs is near impossible since alternative services will pop up overnight. At least one of the file-sharing programs under scrutiny today, LimeWire, has said it is building better safeguards to prevent the spread of sensitive data. But even if Congress forces LimeWire to write safeguard after safeguard into its code, there’s nothing to compel a teenager writing the next big P2P application overseas to meet the same standards. Besides, making P2P the whipping boy for others’ carelessness lets those who stupidly gave millions access to sensitive data off the hook.

Instead, policymakers should remember that it is the government’s responsibility to keep its secrets secret. The same applies to other keepers of private data. Even as he threatened the P2P folks with investigation, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, had a better idea: Simply ban such software on government computers and those of government contractors (the sort of rule with which I have to comply on my computer here at The Post), and do a better job of educating those who are charged with handling sensitive material about how they might accidentally disseminate it by downloading Green Day’s latest album. Call it the 21st century equivalent of loose lips sink ships.

By Stephen Stromberg  | July 29, 2009; 6:06 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Yep. Going after people who are sharing such information but have no clearance themselves is pointless (and unlawful, possibly unconstitutional- see government vs. NY times and WaPo during pentagon papers).

Posted by: NobodyInParticular1 | July 29, 2009 7:12 PM | Report abuse

Gee, the deep-pocketed movie-and-record industry *hates* peer-to-peer (P2P). And now Congressmen are holding choreographed hearings to discuss "regulating" P2P, complete with beautiful soundbite material: P2P helps terrorists.

Watching world-class lobbyists and PR firms work their manipulative magic is indeed a thing of awesome glory.

And I'm guessing that many Congressmen got healthy "campaign contributions" for prostituting themselves to the RIAA/MPAA today.

Posted by: DupontJay | July 29, 2009 9:15 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: GaryEMasters | July 30, 2009 5:35 AM | Report abuse

biggerjake wrote: I personally hope this story never goes away.


911 Transcript in Harvard Professor Arrest May Contradict Police Report

911 Transcript in Harvard Professor Arrest May Contradict Police Report

In his police report, Sgt. James Crowley wrote that the 911 caller told him she'd seen "what appeared to be two black males with backpacks" trying to pry open the locked front door of the home.

On Monday, Whalen's attorney, Wendy Murphy, publicly stated that her client never told Crowley that the men were black.

"She never used the word black and never said the word backpacks to anyone," Murphy said, according to the New York Times.

Uh oh, possible bad news for Officer Crowley...

Posted by: opp88 | July 31, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

There was a time when Congressmen didn't want their votes revealed on legislation.

Posted by: johnson0572 | August 1, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

This is really bad, unless the leaks are to WAPO or the NYT............right?

Posted by: Jimpol | August 1, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Agreed---going after the file share companies is futile. Where there is a demand, there will be a supplier, especially in the P2P industry.

Personally I'm a little shocked that Congress hasn't effectively regulated the use of government computers. Last time I woke up, it was 2009. A little late in the game, aren't we??

Posted by: raughtn | August 3, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

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