Congress Revs War on Spyware

Two opposing anti-spyware bills are battling it out in the House as senators draft their own bill.

Despite the latest efforts by Microsoft Corp. and other tech companies to fight spyware, U.S. lawmakers are more determined than ever to pass a legislative fix.

Two opposing anti-spyware bills are battling it out in the House as senators draft their own bill. The technology industry has lobbied diligently against the anti-spyware legislation, arguing that regulation could outlaw legitimate uses of downloadable software, such as security patches. Also, pointing to the negligible impact of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 on reducing the volume of unsolicited e-mail, many companies tried to persuade Congress to allow technology to combat spyware. However, as popular ire continues to grow against the insidious Internet programs, lawmakers are poised to act.

"We expect to have a bill on the floor very quickly," Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said last week, adding that he hoped the legislation would be taken up by House and Senate conferees in the spring.

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To make legislation more palatable to industry, a bill introduced in January by Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., was amended last week by the House subcommittee that oversees consumer protection. The bill bans keystroke logging, Web-page hijacking and undeletable unsolicited ads. It also requires a conspicuous notice to users before monitoring software is downloaded, and it requires that users opt in. The amendment approved last week would ensure that cookies are not outlawed and that embedded ads are not subject to labeling.

Despite the changes made to the Bono bill last week, the industry largely prefers an alternative measure sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. There remains considerable concern that software programs that update and monitor programs to improve service could be ensnared in a notice-and-consent law. Rather than requiring notice, the Goodlatte bill focuses on malicious uses of interactive software, the harm caused by spyware and criminal penalties.

On the other side of the Capitol, Sens. Conrad Burns, R-Mont.; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., are drafting a new version of their SPY BLOCK (Software Principles Yielding Better Levels of Consumer Knowledge) bill, which won committee approval last session, sources said.

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