Spyware Bill Passes House

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The House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday aimed at making spyware illegal, and the bill could be made law as soon as this week, according to one congressman. "[I will] try to put a bill on the president's desk so he can sign this year," says Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Since Congress could adjourn as soon as Friday, Barton says he will try to garner support from senators this week to move the bill, or a similar version, through the Senate. "Stranger things have happened," Barton says optimistically.

The bill, dubbed the SPY ACT (Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass), outlaws computer technology that downloads programs onto users' computers without their permission.

The bill, which passed with a whopping 399-1 vote, also makes it illegal to hijack control of a user's computer, expose users to pop-up ads that can't be closed, modify a user's personal settings, and download personal information without permission.

Passing the Senate

A similar but not identical bill dealing with spyware is also moving through the Senate. The bill, dubbed the Spy Block Act (Software Principles Yielding Better Levels of Consumer Knowledge), passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on September 22.

Although Barton says he's going to try to work with the Senate, he may hear some objections from senators who prefer their bill to the one passed by the House. "We're planning on working to pass our bill," says Jennifer O'Shea, a spokesperson for Spy Block bill sponsor Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana). And despite Barton's apparent willingness to work with the Senate, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Florida), says the House would rather its version of the bill became law.

O'Shea says currently there is no schedule for the Senate to vote on the Spy Block bill.

Congress is scheduled to vote on another spyware bill on October 6. Called the I-SPY (Internet Spyware Prevention) Act, the legislation deals with criminal penalties for those who violate the proposed spyware laws. Barton says the material from I-SPY could also be rolled up into the version that goes to the Senate.

The Federal Trade Commission would be responsible for enforcing the proposed spyware laws and would report to Congress once a year. Barton notes that the laws would apply only domestically, not internationally. However, he says he hopes the United States can set a standard for international spyware law that would be adopted throughout the world.

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