May 23, 2005 6:25 PM PDT

House approves spyware bill--again

The U.S. House of Representatives approved on Monday a pair of bills supporters say will safeguard Internet users from spyware.

After a brief debate, the House overwhelmingly endorsed two substantially different approaches: fining creators of malicious code, and imprisoning anyone who "intentionally impairs" a computer's security.

Monday's vote is effectively a handoff to the Senate, which has been considering spyware legislation for a few months but is not nearly ready to finalize anything. Still, senators have vowed to avoid a repeat of last year's situation, in which the House approved one bill but the Senate never acted.

Spyware typically sneaks onto PCs through security holes in Microsoft Windows or Internet Explorer. It has bedeviled computer makers, vexed Internet service providers and driven PC users to distraction. Some alleged spyware makers have been sued by the federal and by state governments.

"Consumers regularly and unknowingly are downloading software programs that have the ability to track their every move," said Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., a sponsor of HR 29.

Bono's legislation would create a complex web of regulations--many overseen by the Federal Trade Commission--that software makers must follow. Among the activities that can be punished with fines: browser hijacking, modifying bookmarks, collecting personal information without permission and disabling security mechanisms.

Depending on which rule is violated, proposed fines can reach $3 million per incident. There are, however, exceptions for law enforcement surveillance and monitoring of network connections by Internet service providers.

Bono's bill was approved by a 393-4 vote. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat who represents part of the San Francisco Bay Area, and Rep. Ron Paul, a libertarian-leaning Republican from Texas, were among the few dissenters.

Lofgren is a sponsor of the second bill, HR 744, approved by a vote of 395-1. Instead of laying out a broad set of FTC regulations, the one-page measure includes a handful of prohibitions with felony penalties.

HR 744 says anyone who installs spyware on a computer, "intentionally obtains, or transmits to another, personal information," and causes harm would be slapped with six-digit fines and imprisoned for two years. Using spyware to further other crimes can be punished with up to five years in prison.

4 comments

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US Government still doesn't get it
"The U.S. House of Representatives approved on Monday a pair of bills supporters say will safeguard Internet users from spyware."

"will safeguard", eh? Once again, members of the US Government (e.g., the "supporters") are operating under the mistaken impression that the world consists only of the US.

Jim
Posted by poster48150 (167 comments )
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What does that have to do with anything?
If you think that the US government doesn't know that some if not most of the spyware originates overseas your wrong... im sure they do know this. What you fail to realize is that governments of the world have agreements with other nations about enforcing laws, particularly Internet related laws. These laws are bolstered by years of treaty arraingments with other countries, and fines can be enforced... just ask Yahoo how they like France.
Posted by (18 comments )
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Gotta Start Somewhere...Don't you think?
Have you ever been infected by spyware?
If you haven't then you will one day.
You have to start somewhere before we get there.
I've been building and repairing computer systems for 22 years
and the worst problems I encounter everyday are due to
spyware.
I'm glad our government is taking action against the greedy
companies.
Lilttle by little we'll catch up to them.
We have to start somewhere.
The war has now begun.
Posted by Nino Nice (22 comments )
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