House passes bill to criminalize spyware fraud

House passes bill to criminalize spyware fraud

The House Thursday passed a bill that would criminalize the use of spyware to commit fraud or other crimes, adding an additional two to five years to federal sentences.

The Internet Spyware Prevention Act, HR 4661, also would authorize the appropriation of $10 million to the Justice Department annually for the next four years 'for prosecutions needed to discourage the use of spyware and the practice commonly called phishing.'

The bill, which was passed unanimously, is the second piece of antispyware legislation passed in the House this week. HR 2929, the Spy Act, passed on Tuesday, would provide civil penalties for distribution of spyware or phishing tools. The Federal Trade Commission would enforce the Spy Act.

Spyware is a program that gathers information about the host computer's activity and sends it to a third party, often without the user's knowledge. It can be used to harvest personal information or to deliver pop-up ads. It often is distributed by piggybacking on free software downloaded from the Internet.

Although the Spy Act prohibits any deceptive or unauthorized use of spyware, Thursday's I-Spy Act would apply only to the use of the software 'in the furtherance of another federal criminal offense' or 'with the intent to defraud or injure a person or cause damage to a ' computer.'

States will not be able to bring actions under the act, but the act would not preclude states from bringing actions for fraud or trespass under existing state laws, said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), sponsor of the bill.

'We don't want to create 50 new state actions based on a federal statute when there are already independent state actions that we do not preempt,' he said.

The bill was amended in September to add teeth by authorizing the $10 million for prosecutions and to express the sense of Congress that the Justice Department 'should use the amendments made by this act, and all other available tools, vigorously to prosecute those who use spyware to commit crimes and those that conduct phishing scams.'

'By calling on the department to aggressively prosecute these Internet-related crimes, this amendment will help protect users' account information and help restore the confidence that citizens have in using the Internet,' Goodlatte said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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