Week in review: Clueless in Congress?

Politicians call peer-to-peer networks a "national security threat" and the FBI is on the hot seat for its surveillance requests. Also: iPhone shines.

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.

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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.

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