The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to require the government to set up its computers so they are not exposed to security risks associated with "peer-to-peer" networks.
Government agencies that used the decentralized networks to exchange data would have to ensure they do not accidentally expose classified material or allow hackers into their systems under the bill, which passed by voice vote.
Peer-to-peer networks such as Kazaa and Grokster allow users to copy music and other material directly from each others' hard drives, drawing millions of enthusiastic users and the legal wrath of the recording industry.
Federal agencies have begun to use peer-to-peer technology as well. The www.fedstats.gov
page, for example, uses peer-to- peer techniques to pull statistics and information from computers in more than 100 different government agencies.
But if configured improperly, peer-to-peer networks can expose tax returns, medical records and other sensitive documents users do not want to share. Worms and viruses can spread through the networks and some also contain hidden "spyware" to track users' activities, according to testimony at a committee hearing earlier this year.
Bill sponsor Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, said some peer-to-peer systems were in use in the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory.
The bill, also sponsored by Virginia Republican Rep. Tom Davis, would require government agencies to come up with a plan to minimize such security risks through technical measures and employee training. The House and the Senate already have such measures in place for their own offices.
The bill "closes a loophole in the federal government's efforts to protect the security and privacy of its computers," Davis said.
A Waxman aide said the Senate plans to take up the same version of the bill.