Congress Makes Spyware Top Priority

Matt O'Conner
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., reintroduced federal anti-spyware legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday, and members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have vowed to put the bill on the fast track.

The House last October voted 399-1 to pass a nearly identical bill, but the measure reached the Senate too late in the legislative cycle to gain consideration. Bono and co-sponsor Rep. Ed Towns, D-N.Y., want to make sure the Spy Act, HR29, doesn’t get lost in the shuffle again this year.

“The congresswoman wanted to get a much earlier start this year so that the bill reaches the president’s desk before the end of the legislative session,” Kimberly Pencille, a spokeperson for Bono, told XBiz. She said she expects the bill to be pushed through committee in the next two to three weeks.

“This is an issue that must be addressed quickly,” said committee chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas. “I have talked to several members of the Senate, and they have assured me they’ll be moving legislation very quickly on this matter.”

HR-29 aims to prevent spyware purveyors from such activities as phishing, keystroke logging, homepage hijacking and uploading ads that can’t be closed without shutting down a computer.

Critics, including many adware companies and even anti-spyware software developers, worry that the bill uses too broad a definition of spyware and prohibits many activities that are designed to make websites and software easier to use.

Others argue that the bill doesn’t cover any malicious behaviors that aren’t already covered by section 1030(a)(5) of title 18, United States Code, which provides criminal penalties for spyware abusers.

But Pencille pointed out that Bono’s bill would give section 1030 teeth by authorizing the Federal Trade Commission to whack violators with civil fines of up to $3 million per infraction.

Although Barton predicted a committee vote within three weeks, anti-spyware legislation may have a tougher road in the Senate, which failed to pass several proposed anti-spyware legislation last year.