FTC Commissioner Calls for Prison for Spyware Distributors

Tod Hunter
WASHINGTON — At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday morning, Federal Trade Commissioner William Kovacic said that many spyware distributors "can only be described as vicious organized criminals" and suggested the only deterrent is prison.

Kovacic was responding to a question from Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., about whether the FTC can stop the act of surreptitiously loading software on an unsuspecting user's computer.

"It's a real source of frustration for my constituents, my family, my office ... basically anyone who has a computer," Pryor said.

"Many of most serious wrongdoers we observed in this area, I believe, are only going to be deterred if their freedom is withdrawn," Kovacic said, calling for the FTC to collaborate on its cases with criminal law enforcement authorities.

Congress has tried to pass legislation aimed at curbing spyware and adware before.

At the same hearing, FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz reiterated a request for Congress to increase the Commissions powers to levy fines, not just in spyware cases, but in other FTC jurisdictions as well, such as the act of using false pretenses, or "pretexting," to obtain telephone records.

Tuesday's hearing was held for the FTC commissioners to update the Senate on their recent activities and to request an increase of $17 million from last year's $240 million budget. The hearing lasted about 90 minutes and was attended by only four senators from the 22-member committee — but all five Federal Trade Commissioners. It was the first appearance by all five FTC commissioners before the panel since a hearing involving identity theft issues in June 2005.