U.S. House passes second anti-spyware bill

By : |October 7, 2004 0

Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON: The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a second bill targeting perpetrators of computer “spyware” that hides in users’ computers and monitors their activities.

The House voted 415 to 0 to stiffen jail sentences for those who use secret surveillance programs to steal credit-card numbers or commit other crimes.

The vote came two days after House lawmakers approved a separate bill that establishes multimillion dollar fines for spyware perpetrators.

Backers expect to combine the two bills with another spyware bill pending in the Senate, though time is running short in the legislative year.

Spyware can sap computing power, crash machines and bury users under a blizzard of unwanted ads. Scam artists use keystroke loggers and other forms of spyware to capture passwords, credit-card numbers and other sensitive data.

Under the bill, those found guilty of using spyware to commit other crimes would face up to five years in prison on top of their original sentences.

Those who use spyware to steal personal information with the intent of misusing it, or use spyware to compromise a computer’s defenses, could face up to two years behind bars.

“By imposing stiff penalties on these bad actors, this legislation will help deter the use of spyware and thus help protect consumers from these aggressive acts,” bill sponsor Rep. Bob Goodlatte said in debate.

The bill would also apply to those who send out “phishing” attacks — official-looking e-mail messages that seek to trick people into disclosing their bank-account numbers or other sensitive information.

“Phishers” commonly appropriate the logos of banks such as Citigroup or online businesses like eBay Inc., but have been known to pose as political fund-raisers as well.

The Justice Department would get an extra $10 million annually over the next three years to enforce the measure.

Both spyware bills have won the backing of the technology industry, and backers of the bill that passed Tuesday had hoped to combine them before bringing them to the floor for a vote.

But Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, said in a statement that the first bill is written too broadly and could penalize legitimate software makers.

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