Spyware bills pass House

By David
May 24, 2005

With most eyes focused (understandably) on the Senate’s judicial filibuster fight, the House of Representatives yesterday passed two pieces of spyware legislation:

H.R. 29 — Rep. Mary Bono’s (R-CA) Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass Act (SPY Act), which would, among other things, prohibit deceptive acts or practices intended to take unsolicited control of the computer; modify its settings; collect personally identifiable information; induce the unsolicited installation of computer software; and remove or disable a security, anti-spyware, or anti-virus technology. The bill tasks the FTC with enforcement of these provisions.

H.R. 744 — Rep. Robert Goodlatte’s (R-VA) Internet Spyware Prevention Act (I-SPY Act), which would criminalize the installation of software to commit fraud, damage a computer, or alter security settings. The bill would provide courts the power to impose fines and jail time on lawbreakers. It would also authorize $10 million a year for the Department of Justice to go after those lawbreakers (however, as Cameron noted recently in a different context, authorizing and appropriating are two very different things).

Readers may recall that similar bills were passed by the House last year but died in the Senate. The two bills, which we also discussed in March, are at odds in their approaches to regulating spyware. Bono’s bill focuses on issues of technology, while Goodlatte’s bill focuses on bad actors and criminal behavior. For more information on the bills, see a Reuter’s article from yesterday or Declan McCullagh’s recent article.

In a similar dynamic, there are also two notable spyware bills pending in the Senate: Senator Allen’s (R-VA) S. 1004 (which aims to empower the FTC to deal with the unfair and deceptive acts and practices associated with spyware) and Senator Burns’ (R-MT) S. 687 (which arguably resembles Rep. Bono’s bill in its focus on regulating the technological aspects of spyware).

While one does get the sense that the prospects are better this year for spyware legislation than last year (if only because the costs and negative effects associated with spyware continue to increase), it is also clear that much work remains to be done on the Hill to produce a bill that Congress can agree on.