July 27, 2007 11:00 AM PDT

Week in review: Clueless in Congress?

Just when our elected representatives seem to finally have put the "Internet tubes" flub behind them, recent statements renew our suspicions that Congress really doesn't get tech.

Politicians charged that peer-to-peer networks can pose a "national security threat" because they enable federal employees to share sensitive or classified documents accidentally from their computers. At a hearing on the topic, Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said, without offering details, that he is considering new laws aimed at addressing the problem. He said he was troubled by the possibility that foreign governments, terrorists or organized crime could gain access to documents that reveal national secrets.

The politicians present generally said they believe that there are benefits to peer-to-peer technology but that it will imperil national security, intrude on personal privacy and violate copyright law, if not properly restricted.

News.com Poll

Is Congress clueless about P2P and national security?

Yes
No



View results

Congressional gripes about P2P networks are hardly new, and in the past, they have reinforced concerns raised by the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. Four years ago, the same committee held a pair of hearings that condemned pornography sharing on P2P networks and also explored leaks of sensitive information.

CNET News.com readers were incredulous that government workers dealing with classified information would be allowed to surf the Internet or even to download a file-sharing program. But some pointed to other motivations for the pronouncement.

"Is anyone stupid enough to honestly believe this has anything to do with national security?" wrote one News.com reader to the TalkBack forum. "What this is really about, and we all know it, is kissing the backsides of their masters in Hollywood so the campaign contributions will keep coming in."

In a related move, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid withdrew anti-file-sharing legislation that drew yowls of protest from universities. Reid, without explanation, nixed his own amendment, which would have required colleges and universities--in exchange for federal funding--to use technology to "prevent the illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property."

Instead, Reid replaced it with a diluted version merely instructing institutions of higher education to advise their students not to commit copyright infringement and tell students what actions they're taking to prevent "unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material" through campus networks.

In another head-scratching move, John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and onetime presidential hopeful, said he wants to make it "illegal to transmit images of dog fighting, to run websites that cater to dog fighting." While dog fighting is obviously a deplorable "sport," such a law could imperil news organizations and animal rights Web sites that "transmit images of dog fighting" as part of reporting on or, alternatively, condemning the practice.

However, some politicians are embracing a tech-based debate format in their pursuits of the White House. It seemed wacky at first, but the idea of allowing Americans to pose questions to presidential candidates through brief YouTube videos turned out to be a success.

According to the format worked out in advance by CNN and YouTube, the Democratic Party-sanctioned debate in Charleston, S.C., was based on video questions submitted by the public by Sunday evening. CNN received nearly 3,000 videos, and its editors selected 39 for use during the two-hour debate.

See more CNET content tagged:
national security, P2P, Week in review, politician, Hollywood

44 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Thanks CNET...
...for taking a firm stand against the reforming government ineptitude (which is what Waxman actually proposed) and for your own pocket book, which is directly tied to #6-most-downloaded program here, LimeWire (ta-da!).

Go here to see what actually happened at the hearing:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=1424" target="_newWindow">http://oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=1424</a>
Posted by Informed Citizen (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
P2P is not the problem
First of all, blaming an application vs. incompetence is not right way to go. As an IT professional myself, I know from experience that without proper training on any network, users will inevitably make mistakes...some serious.

Why does a government employee handling sensitive information have a file sharing program on their system in the first place? These systems and the accounts that use them should be locked down pretty tightly. In some companies I've worked for, the users who login to the network have all of their applications served by a profile server. Basically they are given access to only what is needed to do their job.

At the server level, use web and network filtering to do all of the dirty work behind the scenes.

There is no good reasoning here to call P2P a problem. The government just needs to hire good IT staff who know how to implement these necessary safeguards.
Posted by morningowl (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You agree with Waxman...
everything you just said was said at the hearing, either by Waxman or by witnesses whom he invited.



CNET failed to report it because they make big money from people downloading LimeWire here. Mark Gorton, the CEO of LimeWire said that he would make changes and admitted that LimeWire's current protections are inadequate. This was reported by the Washington Post, but not CNET.

You are incorrect in your assumption that all government business takes place on enterprise networks, with official security policies. All of the breaches discussed in the hearing took place from home computers of employees or contractors.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=1424" target="_newWindow">http://oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=1424</a>

You can watch the hearing like I did and see that Waxman specifically said that he had no plans to ban P2P, but hoped that government employees and contractors would be educated about this danger. Legislation could prove to solve this problem by inflicting more severe punishments for these types of breaches.
Posted by Informed Citizen (15 comments )
Link Flag
I'd do more.
If I were the administrator of a network handling classified information, I wouldn't have an Internet connection linked to the involved networks, period.

There's just too many ways for the stuff to leak out - both deliberately, and accidentally.

Even if Web and network filtering is in place, a spy could use VPN-type techniques to evade them - hell, even I've used such things before on "fascist firewalls." (while some of the older VPN protocols could be blocked [say, by port number], something like Hamachi - which can traverse almost any network or NAT configuration, and uses no standard ports - would be much more difficult).

Then, of course, there's malware - which is a completely different animal.

No... if these people need to use the Internet, they could go to a different set of machines, completely network-isolated from the classified info machines.
Posted by unigamer69 (75 comments )
Link Flag
They only understand what lobbyists tell them.
Unfortunately elected officials rarely come from an IT background so they only know what they are told in a language they can understand. These are not the type of people who surf cnet or wired, their interested in people not machines. Some academic type with a lecture on why the Internet should be open simply puts them to sleep. Meanwhile some lobbyist who's invited them to an expensive martini lunch where they speak to them in simplified terms tends to sell. It also doesn't hurt if they write them a campaign donation to prove their "good intentions."


Lobbyists compose their arguments in dumbed down terms selected to resonate with their target.

Lobbyists also represent money given by entities that have money to gain by a legislative move. Follow the money! Large wealthy businesses see more to gain in closed systems (captive market = cash cow products) than in open systems which favor aggressive competition by small and new business.

Until non-profit tech promotion entities or small tech business can form an effective lobby, the big companies are the ones educating our elective officials on technology.
Posted by bwvla (166 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Amazed-
Respectfully, I am amazed that you are so willing to bite the lure that CNET feeds you. You should know before you believe their "journalism" that CNET makes money by distributing LimeWire.

That is why they did not tell you about the academics and experts (none funded by the entertainment industry) who were invited by Waxman to sit on the panel at this hearing and who told the members their opinions about what can be done to keep government employees from leaking data.

CNET didn't tell you that Waxman specifically dismissed the possibility of banning P2P.

CNET didn't tell you that Mark Gorton, CEO of LimeWire promised to fix problems which were showed to him by Waxman and by Gorton's fellow witnesses.

CNET also won't tell you that LimeWire's more recent, safer versions are not available here at download.com, where a 13-month-old version of the program was downloaded a million times in the last month.

Find out what did happen at the hearing here:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=1424" target="_newWindow">http://oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=1424</a>
Posted by Informed Citizen (15 comments )
Link Flag
Clueless or Crafty
This sounds more like a diversion. Maybe I just can't imagine that
grown men and women can be *that* ignorant of something so
pervasive, but it makes more sense to me that their supposed
ignorance is a red herring. Big corps hate p2p. Big corps lobby
congress. Congress goes after p2p to satisfy their donors.
Posted by godofbiscuits--2008 (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Possible.
This is possible - far more probable than CNET distorting the news because it carries a program. =:oD
Posted by unigamer69 (75 comments )
Link Flag
Look at which politicians are tyring to crack down
Its the Democrats. They are trying to turn technology into a political issue. They think that the industry cannot deal with it and they need to control it. The purpose of the Federal government from the very beginning was to protect our boarders from foreign threats, and help to regulate foreign trade.

Its time to kick the lawyers out of Washington and bring in a more diversified group of people -- scientists, engineers, teachers, construction workers, etc... -- we need people who are in touch with the general population, who are willing to represent the interests of people they are serving, not their on personal agendas.
Posted by rjpotts (70 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why blame the Democrats?
Sure, this latest attempt to "regulate technology" by the usual suspects in the Democratic Party smells of the usual blend of incomprehension and knee-jerk pandering. But don't forget it was the current Republican junta that gave us the Patriot Act, The DMCA, warrentless wiretapping by our friends at NSAT&#38;T, a free pass for companies like M$ to extend their monopolies, suppression of clean transportation technologies, promotion of pie-in-the sky initiatives like biofuels and hydrogen. It seems like our choice is between a party that doesn't understand technology and a party that will abuse it to the detriment of us all. I'm not sure putting scientists, engineers et al in charge would change much, because everyone, regardless of their profession, comes with their own political opinions. Politics always wins in the end.
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Link Flag
"By their acts ye shall know them."
Don't rely on party affiliation to decide what to think of any politician, check what they do.
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
Link Flag
Working from home.
I work in an industry where almost everyone works from home by the internet. One basic rule followed by the industry is, "Your work computer is for work. Don't let the kids or your spouse use it. Don't use it to play music. Don't surf the internet on it."

If you work from home, use one computer for work, one computer for everything else.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Bingo.
Thanks Ralf. What you just said may not have seemed like rocket science to you when you wrote it, but it is a Eureaka! moment compared to some of the mind-numbingly ignorant posts I read here earlier this week.

You are the first talkbacker who seems to comprehend the fact that none of this problem has to do with Government Enterprise systems and all of it is on the systems of small private contractors and vendors who deal with government information.

All of the breaches discussed in the hearing, including those discussed by Gen. Wesley Clark took place on private computers, often where a spouse or kid had installed LimeWire.

The real lesson here is that once again, the private sector cannot hack solving problems which were solved at government agencies many years ago.
Posted by Informed Citizen (15 comments )
Link Flag
Might work
The network admin needs some way to get in the computer at home and make sure there are no traces on anything not related to work on that computer, though.
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
Link Flag
Clueless...for sure
Why did it take you this long to realize they are clueless?

It is the way Congress tries to run everything. They are totally clueless.
Posted by westonfe (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Clueless Congress
No one ever went broke betting on the stupidity of Congress to do the wrong thing at the right time. With an IQ lower than their approval rating, they will eventually screwup the internet.
ie: Kerry.
Posted by jackjay (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
...then ban Doors, Pocket, Briefcases, Hands...
If they want to ban p2p (which we ALL know they're not ACTUALLY using in sensitive govt networks), then according to that stupid logic, they should also ban:

--DOORS...since the staff might use them to walk out with sensitive information,
--POCKETS...since it may be used as a transport mechanism
--BRIEFCASES...whoa, imagine how many USB sticks could fit in a briefcase! LOL
--and of course...HANDS...since they are the root and starting point of all this 'evil'

So according to their logic, handless staff, in cement bunkers wearing pyjamas should make us safe.

:)
Posted by smarty_pantz (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oh, and don't forget to shut down the internet...
I forgot...

To the last CIA agent to leave the office...don't forget to shut down the internet.
Posted by smarty_pantz (15 comments )
Link Flag
STOP
&lt;&lt; "If they want to ban p2p ..." &gt;&gt;

STOP
Stop right there.
WHO Wants to ban P2P? Where in the article does it say anything about a ban on P2P software?

Stop pouring the kool-aid.
Try to stick to the facts.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
Don't forget...
...pens, pencils, scanners, removable media, photocopiers, cameras, film (when it's used, less and less nowadays), ink, toner, and paper. =;o)
Posted by unigamer69 (75 comments )
Link Flag
Modification of the old axiom.
P2P doesn't expose classified documents, people expose classified documents!

Does that sound familiar?

Congress should focus on real issues... and quit it with the technophobia/technoignorance and their own internal witch-hunting.
Posted by unigamer69 (75 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Control
The elite (The Council on Foreign Relations, The Trilateral
Commission, Bilderbergers, International Bankers and AIPAC)
have finally met their undoing with the "internets". Expect
continued attacks from these folks (AKA, the government) due
to the danger the free flow of information poses for them.

After a long string of successes (wars, usury, big media, big
government and organized religion) they have finally met their
match.

The genie is out of the bottle now, but they will continue to try
to control it. Their fate is already sealed, because once you've
seen the men behind the curtain......
Posted by Todd Templeton (69 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Educate the Clueless
With the overwhelming readers voting in favor of clueless one can only hope that you'll make sure Henry Waxman gets a copy of the results...
Posted by stanzur (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Week in review: Problems at Apple?
"If Apple sold 270,000 iPhones in the first 30 hours the product was on sale and AT&#38;T activated only 146,000 iPhones during a similar period of time, then what happened to the other 124,000 phones?"

Easy: they got their hands on a Windows Mobile 6 smartphone before they opened the iPhone box. ROTFLMAO
Posted by Fil0403 (1303 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yeah, why would you...
commit copyright infringement, when you can enjoy the freedom of copyleft instead?

You'd think some of those pirates would get sick and tired of all the condescending attitudes they get and switch to creative commons media and gnu software. Come on people- let the inferior stuff die already.

So sad. Hey, my usual offer to any of you out there- if you want any help finding and/or switching to open source stuff like Linux, inkscape, blender, the GIMP- or just understanding free software in general a bit better, just let me know, and I'll give you all the help I can. ethana2@gmail.com
Posted by ethana2 (348 comments )
Reply Link Flag
P2P isn't the problem, it's the Federal Employees
Wow, incredible ! Congress saying P2P is the cause of it's secrets being leaked out - is like saying we should ban automobiles because a federal employee could drive one to a meeting with 'the bad guys' and pass along some paperwork.

Duh !

Congress, you need to find a better excuse to justify your censorship of the people you represent while they are online !
Posted by bruceslog (112 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What the....
Are you suggesting that our legislators know what is going on before they pass legislation? That would be a horrible thorn in the side of legisative progress.

Besides, they are representatives of the public. How can we demand that they have more rationality than the majority of their voters?
Posted by JJ_Wilde (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Our goofy Congress
Congress is clueless about a lot of very important matters.
Posted by royrfmcc (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.