July 2, 2004
Computers are becoming more and more commonplace in folks' homes-a reflection of the current Information Age. Technology has brought tremendous improvement to our quality of life, but with these advances comes increased vulnerability.
To combat some of those vulnerabilities, I recently introduced bipartisan legislation, the "Internet Spyware (I-SPY) Prevention Act of 2004," to address the most egregious activities that are conducted via spyware, and make those activities criminal offenses.
Spyware is software that is secretly downloaded onto computers without the user's knowledge. It can be used for such devious purposes as gathering personal information, such as credit card or social security numbers, gaining control over the user's computer in order to send spam or other despicable materials, or even altering the security settings on a user's computer.
In April, the Federal Trade Commission testified before a House Subcommittee that "spyware appears to be a new and rapidly growing practice that poses a risk of serious harm to consumers."
My legislation would impose up to a five year prison sentence on anyone who uses software to intentionally break into a computer and uses that software to further another federal crime. In addition, it would impose up to a two year prison sentence on anyone who uses software to intentionally break into a computer and then either alters the computer's security settings, or obtains personal information with the intent to defraud or injure a person or damage a computer.
By imposing stiff penalties on these bad actors, this legislation will help deter the use of spyware, and will thus help protect consumers from these aggressive attacks.
At the same time this legislation would not interfere with the ability of companies to continue to develop technological solutions to block spyware. Any successful solution to spyware must consist of a combination of tough penalties for the really bad actors and innovative technologies to combat spyware. This legislation leaves the door open for the advent of technology to combat spyware programs.
Spyware encompasses several potential risks including the promotion of identity theft, by harvesting personal information from consumer's computers. Additionally, it can adversely affect businesses, as they are forced to sustain costs to block and remove spyware from employees' computers, not to mention the potential impact on productivity.
There is also a growing concern that persistent computer security vulnerabilities may expose U.S. critical infrastructure and government computer systems to cyber attacks, which would ultimately jeopardize national security and the economy.
The I-SPY Prevention bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee on which I serve. I am hopeful that this important legislation will appropriately punish those who break into folks' computers, while at the same time protecting thousands of unsuspecting Americans.