The legislation would make it illegal to access a computer without authorization, among other things, and would fine violators.
WASHINGTONThe U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a bill that would make spyware illegaland provide stiff sanctions for anyone found breaking that law.
The bipartisan Internet Spyware (I-SPY) Prevention Act of 2004, passed by a vote of 415-0, is intended to punish spyware without placing undue burdens on legitimate uses of the same or similar technology. The bill, H.R. 4661, was sponsored by Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas).
"This is important for maintaining the confidence of consumers when theyre using the Internet," Goodlatte said, noting that users are now besieged by waves of spam, phishing schemes and pornography in addition to spyware. And Goodlatte said todays laws arent much help. "Its not clear under current law whats legal," he said.
The new law would make a number of spyware spreaders actions illegal. Those actions include accessing a computer without authorization or intentionally exceeding authorized access.
In addition, the law would make it a crime to cause computer code or programs to be copied onto a computer to further another federal offense; to perform identity theft; or to impair the security protections of the computer. Penalties for breaking the law would run from two to five years in prison, in addition to fines.
In addition to the penalties, the I-SPY bill allocates $10 million to the Department of Justice to combat spyware and phishing scams. "We need strong sanctions," Goodlatte said in describing the penalties.
Now that the bill has passed the House, the next step is taking it to the U.S. Senate. "Theres a good deal of interest in the Senate," Goodlatte said, stressing the importance of throwing the book at the bad guys while not impacting legitimate uses of similar technologies.
He said the bill avoids overregulation, a concept to which the Senate is also receptive. Its not clear at this point whether the president would be willing sign the bill, Goodlatte said, but he thinks the White House will find it acceptable. "Its a compatible approach" to what the thinking is there, he said.
Bill Gates says Microsoft will be tackling the spyware problem. Click here to read more.
Of course, just because its against the law doesnt necessarily mean the law can be broadly enforced. But Goodlatte said he isnt particularly worried about that. "I think this has considerable prospects for success," he said, calling the bill a necessary tool. "Law enforcement cant do anything about it if its not against the law," he said.
The bill has enjoyed broad support. "The Goodlatte, Lofgren and Smith bill will help make sure that there are strong deterrents to using spyware to defraud and injure consumers," Ari Schwartz, associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said in a statement.
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Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.
He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.