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US P2P bill aims shackles at browsers, IM

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Technology lobbying groups have pounced on proposed US legislation designed to prevent the accidental sharing of sensitive files over peer-to-peer networks, saying it is so broad that web browsers and even entire operating systems would also be covered.

The Informed P2P User Act would require makers of file-sharing software to add prominent warnings that files can be shared and require users to give their consent by clicking a button. The notice would appear once when the application is being installed and again when it it is first run.

The problem is that the warning would be required for any program that allows a file to be uploaded or downloaded, a capability that's included in browsers, instant messaging programs, and indeed most operating systems, since they include FTP, or file transfer protocol.

"If legislation ends up sweeping in many kinds of software, there are likely to be a wider range of issues and complications to consider, as the bill's requirements might not prove appropriate in all contexts," David Sohn, senior policy counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology, wrote in prepared comments (PDF) before the a subcommittee for the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Four technology trade groups voiced similar concerns (also PDF).

The bill, introduced in March by Republican Representative Mary Bono Mack of California, is aimed at preventing debacles like the one in March that exposed confidential blueprints detailing President Obama's Marine One helicopter. It was only the latest example of sensitive files being broadcast to the world through P2P networks. While most programs by default don't share the entire contents of a hard drive, careless users often override these settings.

Bono's bill is designed to save such users from themselves. But as written, it may create a whole new mess someone else will need to clean up. ®

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