Senate Panel Approves Spyware and Wireless Privacy Bills

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee recently approved bills intended to fight computer spyware and to protect wireless phone customers from potential privacy problems associated with a wireless phone number directory.

Wireless 411: Consent Now Required

One day after a hearing on the Wireless 411 Privacy Act, the committee approved the bill, which would prohibit wireless carriers from including subscribers' phone numbers in published directories without their consent.

Six of the seven largest wireless carriers are moving forward with a plan to compile a wireless number directory. Sponsors of the bill, including Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), argued this week that wireless phone customers expect their numbers to be private, and the bill would safeguard customers against unscrupulous business practices.

But the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, representing wireless carriers, said the carriers are already putting safeguards in place voluntarily. For example, the wireless directory would not be published in print or on the Internet--a wireless number would be available only when someone called a 411 service--and numbers would not be made available without customer consent.

"Fire, ready, aim is the approach the Senate Commerce Committee took today on legislating Wireless 411 service," says Steve Largent, CTIA president and chief executive officer, in a statement responding to the committee's approval of the bill. "This is a service that has yet to be introduced. It is unnecessary for the government to dictate best practices on a competitive industry with ... a stellar record."

Spyware Blocking Ahead

Also this week, the committee unanimously approved anti-spyware legislation, the SPY BLOCK (Software Principles Yielding Better Levels of Consumer Knowledge) Act. This act would prohibit the surreptitious installation of software on computers. A similar bill passed through a House committee in June.

SPY BLOCK would prohibit software vendors from using misleading means to induce consumers to install software, would prohibit software from preventing reasonable efforts to uninstall or disable it, and would prohibit installing software that automatically collects and transmits information about the user without the user's permission.

"When I purchase a computer and install it in my home, I expect to be the only one who has access to it," says Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana), a sponsor of the bill, in a statement. "But it has become common practice for online spies to bury themselves in computer systems and watch every move computer users make. This legislation gives control back to those who should have it--it protects computer users from those potentially devastating spies and the surreptitious programs they want to install."

Both bills now go to the full Senate. If the Senate passes the bills, and the House passes similar bills that have been introduced there, conference committees would resolve any differences between the two versions before they are presented to the president for his signature.

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