Politicians Vow to Get Anti-Spyware Bill Passed
The so-called Spy Act (Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass) overwhelmingly passed in the House in 2004 and 2005, but died in the Senate both times. The latest effort, which features a revised, more hard-hitting bill, is headed by Representatives Edolphus Towns and Mary Bono. The two politicians tabled the bill to the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee focused on consumer protection issues in mid-March.
The new Spy Act imposes strict regulations on what types of actions software is allowed to perform. It would be against the law to "take control" of a user's computer, to collect personal data through keystroke loggers, and to modify one's Internet settings. The bill would also prohibit the gathering of information about a user or his/her behavior without consent. There would, however, be certain exemptions like Web cookies.
Bono, one of the author's of the Spy Act, told CNET she "didn't really have a problem with cookies...because anyone with a slight degree of sophistication on the Internet knows how to delete the cookies. That's not hard to do."
A trade group representing online advertisers has a problem with the part of the bill prohibiting information collection without prior permission from the user. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) testified against the bill in a Congressional hearing, calling the exemption to cookies "too narrow."
"The bill could prohibit certain types of advertising technologies, including cookies or Java scripts of the future," said Mike Zaneis, IAB's VP for Public Policy.
The Federal Trade Commission, which has brought several spyware enforcement cases to court, has in the past complained of the inability to levy large fines on spyware creators. In the re-written Spy Act, the FTC could seek fines as high as $3 million U.S.
Another spyware bill, one that calls on penalties of up to five years in prison and major fines, has also been tabled in an attempt to curb spyware activities.
I-Spy, or the Internet Spyware Prevention Act, is very different from the Spy Act in that it does not define illicit software; it would make it illegal to copy computer code on a machine without authorization if it revealed personal information about a user or put the PC's security at risk.
Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Bob Goodlatte reintroduced I-Spy in March, which actually passed the House on a 395-1 vote back in May 2005, but also died in the Senate weeks later.
In a statement, Lofgren said the bill would protect Americans from Internet crime without disturbing software development.
"Spyware has become a plague for computer users, and Congress must address the mounting negative impact that it is having on our economy. Americans should not be afraid to use the Internet," said Lofgren.
The bills are now in the hands of the U.S. Senate. The question is, will this time be a charm or three strikes and they're out?
What are your thoughts on anti-spyware legislation? Will it deter future spyware authors? Weigh in at firstname.lastname@example.org.