July 29, 2003 10:30 AM PDT

Lawmaker wants limits to spyware

Rep. Mary Bono introduced a bill Monday that would take the "spy" out of spyware.

The Safeguard Against Privacy Invasions Act would require companies using spyware to get permission from computer users before installing the software on their machines.

Spyware is the much-maligned software that companies secretly install to monitor people's Internet habits and gather information about them. The software itself is not illegal, and many companies disclose their use of spyware in licensing agreements. However, few people read the fine print of those agreements, meaning the software often is installed unknowingly on a person's computer.

Bono, R-Calif., said her bill is designed to prevent invasions of privacy. "Companies that utilize spyware can sometimes view everything from passwords to credit card numbers of unknowing consumers," Bono said in a statement. "Through this bill, users will knowingly agree to the conditions under which spyware operates before it can be installed on their computers."

The bill would require companies to post an agreement in a conspicuous location telling computer users that spyware is being installed. Companies also would be required to get the user's permission. Businesses that collect personally identifiable information would have to post an additional notice warning people of its plans. Furthermore, companies that install spyware would have to disclose a valid name, street address and e-mail. The Federal Trade Commission would be in charge of regulating the process and imposing penalties on companies that do not comply.

The measure is the second permission-based technology bill introduced in Congress in the past week, as more and more legislators try to tap into tech-related issues. On Thursday, Reps. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., and Chris John, D-La., unveiled legislation aimed at curbing children's access to porn on file-sharing networks. That measure would require peer-to-peer companies to get permission from parents before installing software on a minor's computer.

 

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