The House Committee on Government Reform will hold a hearing Thursday morning to investigate the availability of child pornography on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks.

Lawmakers and law enforement officials say they are alarmed that kiddie porn is spreading through the networks, which allow users to download and directly share electronic files independent of the Web.

Since the first P2P program, Napster, was shut down by court order, newer file-sharing programs like Kazaa, Grokster and BearShare have surged in popularity and have become one of the most popular uses of the technology, particularly among children and young adults. Napster claimed that as many as 1.6 million people were using their program at the same time. Kazaa, which is currently one of the more popular file P2P programs, can have as many as four million simultaneous users.

The committee will hear from witnesses who will discuss a variety of issues related to the prevalence of pornography on file sharing programs, including investigating cases of child pornography on peer-to-peer networks; risks posed to children through unintended exposure to pornography; and options available to parents to limit children's access to pornographic materials on P2P networks.

Committee members will also see a live demonstration of the use of seemingly innocuous keywords likely to be used by juveniles on P2P programs that can lead to pornographic images.

Included among the witnesses will be Linda Koontz, director of Information Management Issues at the General Accounting Office (GAO), which produced a November report on the spread of child pornography through P2P.

"The trafficking of child pornography through increasingly sophisticated electronic media, including Internet chat rooms, newsgroups, and peer-to-peer networks, has made these images more readily available," the GAO report stated. "These technological advances have created more challenges for law enforcement, including requiring effective coordination to combat this crime."

The GAO report addresses three issues: the ease of access to child pornography on peer-to-peer networks; the risk of inadvertent exposure of juvenile users of peer-to-peer networks to pornography; and the extent of federal law enforcement resources available for combating child pornography on peer-to-peer networks.

Also testifying will be Daniel Rung, CEO of the file-sharing program Grokster; Randy Saaf, president of MediaDefender, and representative from the new Department of Homeland's CyberSmuggling Center.