Titled the "Internet Spyware Prevention Act," the bill was passed unanimously Thursday by House members and proposes up to five years in prison for anyone convicted of installing the controversial software that has sent lawmakers spinning on their heels for the past year.
The bill also includes phishing scammers that pose as legitimate companies with intent to steal personal identification information from users.
As it stands, previous bills have proposed prison terms of up to two years for stealing information or installing spyware.
"Internet Spyware Prevention Act," which was sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va, would rely on the Justice Department for enforcement and has so far allotted a $10 million budget to prosecute spyware companies and individuals.
The bill still has yet to be signed into law by President George Bush and is expected to be combined with a sister bill called the "Spy Act," which was approved earlier this week by a 399-1 vote in the House.
The Spy Act was sponsored by Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., and includes substantial civil penalties of up to $3 million for practices like phishing, keystroke logging, homepage hijacking and ads that can't be closed except by shutting down a computer.
According to lawmakers, the two combined bills, both covering civil and criminal violations, would take precedence over any current or pending state anti-spyware bills.
Spyware is considered by many critics to be the most recent scourge on the Internet aside from spam. Studies have indicated that more than 90 percent of computers have been installed with some form of spyware.
By definition, spyware is software that covertly gathers information through a user's Internet connection without permission from the user. Spyware is usually combined with freeware or shareware programs that can be downloaded from the Internet.