As the Internet has become more and more a part of our lives, computer users have become increasingly vulnerable to some of the most pervasive threats when they go online today. In recognition of this growing concern, June has been declared National Internet Safety Month.
One of the current issues we hear about is spam. These unwanted messages burden consumers by slowing down their e-mail and Internet connections and making children vulnerable to pornography and undesirable junk e-mail.
The Can Spam Act was signed into law last Congress, and allows consumers to opt-out of receiving unsolicited commercial e-mail messages and requires spammers to identify themselves and their messages as solicitation.
Related to spam are the growing problems of "phishing" and "spyware." "Phishing" is a way of obtaining folks' personal financial information -- the objective is simply to deceive people into giving out this information with the intent of committing identity theft.
Similarly "spyware" is software that is secretly downloaded onto computers without the user's knowledge, and is then used to gather personal information. Congress continues to pursue various legislative remedies, among them legislation I introduced, the I-Spy Prevention Act, which would impose criminal penalties on the most egregious behaviors associated with spyware.
The FTC's web site www.ftc.gov is the best place to report computer scams. But often the best protection is an informed consumer who can recognize these attempts at fraud for what they are and know what to do when confronted with them.
Another on-line challenge relates to peer-to-peer technology, "P2P,"-- file sharing software that connects your personal computer to other computers that use the same software. While P2P software has many legitimate uses, some P2P services exploit consumers by subjecting them to viruses, pornography and making the personal information stored on their computers vulnerable to theft.
The Internet presents unique challenges to protecting our children online. Parents must be vigilant in ensuring that our children are communicating safely online. Some useful tips include requiring your child to get permission from you before going online, and making sure your child is not communicating with strangers of any age. Also, instruct them not to give out personal information, and tell them to discuss with you any questionable conversations or pictures they find online.
The Internet is a revolutionary tool that is full of promise and possibilities, and it has the potential to completely change the ways in which all Americans live, work, learn and play. I am working to ensure that the Internet is a safe place to communicate and do business for both consumers and companies. Only when consumers have confidence to communicate and transact business online will the Internet reach its full potential to increase efficiency and decrease costs for America's consumers.