House Committee Pushing P2P File Sharing Bill

The House Energy & Commerce Committee passed two bills Wednesday dealing with protecting personal information online, including one that would establish new guidelines for some P2P file sharing.

While cable and other network operators and others have caught flak from the FCC and the Hill for their management of P2P file-sharing programs, the Informed P2P User Act (HR 1319), which was reported out of committee Wednesday, puts its own restrictions on the technology.

The bill requires that users of file-sharing programs are given "conspicuous notice" and required to opt in before the file sharing program is installed. It also requires those who market or distribute the programs to make it "reasonably simple" to block or remove the programs. But it also says it is not meant to discourage the legitimate uses of file-sharing technology.

The bill as passed narrowed the definition of peer-to-peer services subject to the restrictions to those where sharing of personal data--financial or health records--was implicated. It specifically exempts e-mail, instant messaging, real time audio and video and real-time voice applications, its co-sponsor, Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) said at the hearing marking up the bills.

That wasn't narrow enough for democratic Rep. Jay Inslee of Washington. He said he was concerned that that it could still unintentionally "sweep up" in applications "with legitimate value to consumers."

Democrat Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.) shared that concern. Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who introduced a managers amendment with those exemptions, said the goal was "to avoid sweeping in legitimate technologies unrelated to inadvertent file sharing," and would work with them to make sure the language made that clearer if need be.

The language about clear notification and requiring users' prior consent, reminded at least one legislator of the push for similar notice for online targeted advertising.

"I understand my colleague, Ms. Bono Mack's concern for preserving the individual's right to consent to sharing information stored on computer disks with others via peer-to-peer file sharing programs...I would dare say it would have some bearing on this committee's consideration of the subject of behavioral advertising," said former Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.).

Also passed out of committee was HR 2221, which sets federal standards for protecting personal information, including giving consumers more access to and control over, that information, and requires notice to consumers of data breaches.

The bills now head for the Senate floor.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.