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Bob's Weekly Report: Spyware: Watch Out For What's Going Into Your Computer

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The continued growth of technology has brought tremendous improvement to our lives from advances in medical research to the ability to communicate with loved ones located thousands of miles away. While the benefits of this technology continue to increase, so too does the vulnerability of those who use it.

To help people stay safer on the Internet, I recently introduced the Internet Spyware (I-SPY) Prevention Act which addresses the most sinister activities conducted with the help of spyware and makes those activities criminal offenses. This bipartisan legislation has overwhelmingly passed the House in the previous two Congresses but the Senate has failed to act on it.

Software is deemed "spyware" when it is installed secretly by devious individuals and performs additional functions of which the user is unaware. A recent study done by the National CyberSecurity Alliance revealed that over 90% of consumers had some form of spyware on their computers and most consumers were not aware of it.

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.

Just as we would expect a burglar to face criminal charges for invading a home and stealing property, we should expect the same from people who break into our computers to gather personal information.

Additionally, the legislation authorizes $10 million to the Department of Justice to combat spyware and phishing and pharming scams. "Phishing" scams typically involve the use of fake e-mail messages and websites to lure consumers into providing bank account information, credit card numbers and other personal information. These fake e-mail messages and websites are often indistinguishable from the real ones and often request account information from consumers.

Even worse, in "pharming" scams spyware is used to send unknowing internet users to look alike fake websites when they think they are going to the real one. They then unknowingly give up account information and passwords to criminals.

Spyware presents several potential risks including the promotion of identity theft, by harvesting personal information from consumers' 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.

The benefits of technology are vast and every person should have the right to enjoy them and not worry that every click of their mouse is being recorded by a complete stranger. It is time that we crack down on Internet spyware abuse. By imposing stiff penalties, my legislation will help to deter spyware abusers and help protect consumers.

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