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House Panel OKs Anti-Spyware Bill - InternetNews.
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House Panel OKs Anti-Spyware Bill

WASHINGTON -- Calling for penalties of up to $3 million, a House subcommittee unanimously approved anti-spyware legislation Thursday, which requires that consumers be given clear and conspicuous notice prior to downloading the Web traffic tracking software.

H.R. 2929, or the Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass Act (SPY Act), also includes provisions to prohibit unfair or deceptive behavior, such as key-stroke logging, computer hijacking and the display of advertisements that cannot be closed.

The bill now goes to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Similar legislation is pending before the Senate Commerce Committee.

"I think this will become public law sometime before the end of this year and protect the privacy of millions and millions of Americans," said Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas).

In April, Barton was critical of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for not doing enough to halt the spread of spyware and vowed to pass tough legislation this year that would "cure this cancer on the Internet." The FTC maintained no new laws are necessary, because the unauthorized use of spyware qualifies as a deceptive trade practice.

Consumer and privacy advocates are concerned about the growing number of spyware programs that often piggyback on downloaded files, report back Internet traffic patterns to advertisers and generate unwanted popups.

The passage of the bill in the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection comes one day after EarthLink and Webroot Software released a report that claims more than 500,000 system monitors and Trojan horses were discovered from approximately 1.5 million scans completed this year. Overall, the scans found 27.5 spyware programs per computer.

"Spyware continues to spread and plague legitimate computer users," Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee, said. "This rapid growth makes passing the legislation before us even more critical. This legislation will directly target the advancing spread of spyware and provide strong protections for all computer users' rights to privacy."

The bill requires anyone who is not the owner or authorized user of a computer to provide an opt-in screen prior to transmitting or enabling any information collection program, which can collect personally identifiable information or information about Web sites visited.

Stearns said the legislation "has been carefully crafted to avoid impacting legitimate uses of the same technology that enables spyware, including technology like parental Internet monitoring software used to track children's Internet usage or enhanced customer security for certain websites.

"Our goal was to produce a bill that was not overly prescriptive, specifically directed at egregious practices and which also preserved legitimate uses of the technology," added Stearns.

Rep. Mary Bono (R-Calif.), who originally introduced the legislation, said, "We are one step closer to restoring safety, confidence and control to consumers when using their own computers."

In the disclosure notice required under the proposed law, the SPY Act requires consumers be informed of the type of information the software collects or sends or the purpose for which the information is collected or sent. The bill also requires that spyware that the consumer consents to download must be easily uninstalled "without undue effort or knowledge" on the part of the computer user.