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Bob's Weekly Report - Spyware: Curbing Abuse with Stiff Penalties

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Bob's Weekly Report - Spyware: Curbing Abuse with Stiff Penalties
DATE: February 11, 2005

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 combat some of those vulnerabilities, 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.

Software is deemed "spyware" when it is installed secretly by devious individuals and performs additional functions of which the user is unaware. 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.

Spyware encompasses 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.

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.

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. Additionally, anyone who uses the software to intentionally break into a computer and either alters the security settings or obtains personal information with the intent to defraud or injure a person or damage a computer would face up to a two-year prison sentence.

In addition, enforcement is crucial in combating spyware. The I-SPY Prevention Act also authorizes $10 million to the Department of Justice to combat spyware and phishing 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. You often can't tell these fake e-mail messages and websites from the real ones and they are just trying to fool you into revealing account information.

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, this legislation will help to deter spyware abusers and help protect consumers.

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