Wednesday, 23 May 2007 06:59

US Reps pass spyware bill - again

The US House of Representatives has passed the Internet Spyware (I-SPY) Prevention Act, which provides for sentences of up to five years imprisonment for those who introduce certain types of software onto a computer without authorisation.

The five year penalty applies if spyware is used to commit another Federal criminal offence. Those using spyware to collect personal information or to impare a computer's security face lesser sentences of up to two years.

Introducing the bill in March, co-sponsor Zoe Lofgren (Democrat) said it was aimed at "protecting Americans from internet crime while not impinging on software development."

"Spyware has become a plague for computer users, and Congress must address the mounting negative impact that it is having on our economy," she added.

Republican co-sponsor Bob Goodlatte said "The I-SPY Prevention Act is a targeted approach that protects consumers by imposing stiff penalties on the truly bad actors, while protecting the ability of legitimate companies to develop new and exciting products and services online for consumers."

The term "personal information" is narrowly defined by the act, and is limited to first and last name, physical address, email address, phone number, social security and "any other government issued identification number" (including drivers licence and passport numbers, and bank account or credit card numbers or any password or access code associated with those accounts.

It seems that using spyware to capture user names and passwords for online services other than banking and credit cards would not be an offence under this act, unless that information was used in a way contrary to Federal law.

Not surprisingly, lawfully authorised activities of law enforcement and intelligence agencies are exempted from the I-SPY provisions.

The legislation includes an annual appropriation of $10 million to the Attorney General "for prosecutions needed to discourage the use of spyware and the practices commonly called phishing and pharming."

I-SPY was supported by members of both parties. Similar acts were passed by House of Representatives during the two previous Congresses, but did not get through the Senate.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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