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Congress to probe P2P sites over 'inadvertent sharing'

Committee on Oversight and Government Reform reopens investigation into P2P venues like Lime Wire in the wake of security leaks involving President Obama's helicopter.

The main investigative committee in the U.S. House of Representatives has reopened a probe of Lime Wire and other peer-to-peer file-sharing companies over the issue of "inadvertent sharing." The move comes nearly two months after it was alleged that Iran took advantage of a computer security breach to obtain information about President Barack Obama's helicopter.

After sensitive information regarding the president's helicopter was leaked, Congress wants to know whether P2P company Lime Wire has made good on helping stop inadvertent sharing. The White House

CNET News has obtained copies of the letters written by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission asking them for help investigating the recent rash of security breaches caused when people who use P2P software accidentally share information on networks like Lime Wire or BearShare.

"These reports indicate that very significant risks continue to plague P2P file sharing networks," lawmakers wrote in an April 20 letter to FTC Chairman John Leibowitz. "Therefore, under Rules X and XI of the Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives, we are reopening our investigation of inadvertent file sharing on peer-to-peer networks, including LimeWire."

Some security experts believe the files probably were transferred through a peer-to-peer network.

The Oversight Committee also wrote a letter to Mark Gorton, chairman of the Lime Group, Lime Wire's parent company.

"On July 24, 2007, you testified before the Committee on Oversight ... in a hearing on 'Inadvertent File Sharing on Peer-to-Peer Networks,'" the committee wrote Gorton. "It appears that nearly two years after your commitment to make significant changes in the software, LimeWire and other P2P providers have not taken adequate steps to address this critical problem."

A spokeswoman for the Committee on Oversight confirmed the letters had gone out. Representatives from the Lime Group were unavailable for comment.

The committee cited some recent high-profile security breaches.

On February 28, 2009, a television station in Pittsburgh reported that the blueprints and avionics package for "Marine One," the President's helicopter, was made available on a P2P network by a defense contractor in Maryland.

On February 26, 2009, the "Today" show broadcast a segment on inadvertent P2P file sharing, reporting that Social Security numbers, more than 150,000 tax returns, 25,800 student loan applications, and nearly 626,000 credit reports were easily accessible on a P2P network.

On February 23, 2009, a Dartmouth College professor published a paper reporting that over a two-week period he was able to search a P2P network and uncover tens of thousands of medical files containing names, addresses, and Social Security numbers for patients seeking treatment for conditions such as AIDS, cancer, and mental health problems

On July 9, 2008, The Washington Post reported that an employee of an investment firm who allegedly used LimeWire to trade music or movies inadvertently exposed the names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers of about 2,000 of the firm's clients, including Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. There have been reports alleging file-sharing programs have been used for illegal purposes, such as to steal others' identities.

A copy of the letter from U.S. Congressional committee on oversight to Attorney General.

More to come