U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah) suggested Tuesday that he might favor technology that can remotely destroy the computers of those who illegally download music from the Internet. Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, made his comments during a hearing on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks.

A published musician himself, Hatch said a system that warned an illegal file swapper twice and then destroyed the downloader's computer on the third abuse, "may be the only you can teach somebody about copyrights."

Hatch's comments came as a surprise since his prepared comments barely noted the problem of illegal downloading, instead focusing on such potential P2P problems as invasions of privacy and identity theft.

"I do believe that peer-to-peer file-sharing networks are here to stay. But the problems of data privacy, spyware and viruses should remind all of us that the final role of peer-to-peer file-sharing networks in our culture remains to be seen," Hatch said in his opening remarks.

Saying P2P networks hold "great promise," Hatch also warned, " If these networks are designed to minimize the risks of file-sharing, then the promise of this technology can become reality. If not, then users, network administrators and others may ultimately conclude that the risks of this technology outweigh its advantages."

Later in the hearing Hatch's comments went from the general to the very specific when Randy Saaf of MediaDefender, which develops technology designed to thwart illegal downloading, said no one was interested in destroying computers.

Hatch said he was interested, adding, "If we can find some way to do this without destroying their machines, we'd be interested in hearing about that."

However, Hatch said, if destroying computers was the only way to stop illegal downloading, then "if you have a few hundred thousand of those," illegal downloaders would get the message.

Hatch did acknowledge any system that let copyright owners destroy the machines of file swappers would require the sanction of law.

In the last session of Congress, Rep. Howard Berman (D.-Calif.) introduced legislation giving copyright owners "technological self-help measures" including redirection, decoys, spoofing and file blocking. The bill never made it to the House floor for a vote. So far, no similar legislation has been introduced in the current session of Congress.