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Spyware Legislation Passes House Energy and Commerce Committee

Location: Washington, DC

Spyware Legislation Passes House Energy and Commerce Committee

Bill cosponsored by Walden to end invasive practices, give back control of computers to owners sent to House Floor with bipartisan support

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

WASHINGTON, DC - The House Energy and Commerce Committee today approved H.R. 29, the SPY ACT, with a unanimous, bipartisan vote of 43-0. The bill, introduced by Congresswoman Mary Bono (R-CA) and cosponsored by Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR), calls for several provisions to fight the invasive practice of software that monitors the activity of a computer user without his or her consent.

The bill prohibits deceptive practices such as hijacking a consumer's homepage, keystroke logging, and sending ads that cannot be closed except by shutting down the computer. Additionally, H.R. 29 provides for a prominent opt-in for consumers prior to executing any monitoring software on their computer and requires that monitoring software be easily disabled at the direction of the consumer. Under this bill, the Federal Trade Commission would have the authority to enforce monetary penalties for those who knowingly violate the Act.

The explosion of spyware, Trojan horses and unwanted pop-up ads not only incapacitates computers, but also costs businesses and individuals millions of dollars each year. "It's time to give computer users the power to stop spyware from taking over their machines, grabbing personal information and sharing it with others, or simply destroying programs and files," said Walden, who recently began his third term as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over issues relating to commerce, telecommunications, and the internet.

"Like millions of Americans, I've had these programs invade my personal computers, our office computers and those in my business. They trick their way in, they take over, and they destroy. It's wrong and it's costly. I applaud my colleagues in the House for taking steps toward putting a stop to this, and my hope is that the Senate will follow suit," Walden said. An identical version of this bill passed the House in the last Congress by a vote of 399-1, but was not approved by the Senate.

At a January 26th hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Microsoft's Associate Chief Counsel, Ira Rubenstein, testified before the committee that his company continues "…to receive reports that suggest such software is at least partially responsible for approximately one-half of all application crashes that our customers report to us."

Mr. Rubenstein then told the Committee about a study conducted last fall by America Online and the National Cyber Security Alliance which found that "…approximately 80 percent of all users had some form of spyware or adware on their machines, and the average computer contained 93 spyware or adware components. Perhaps most troubling, 89 percent of respondents whose computers had tested positive were unaware that their systems contained any spyware."

David N. Baker, vice president for law and public policy for EarthLink, Inc., told the Committee that spyware detection software his company makes available to the public conducted more than 3.2 million scans of computers in the first nine months of last year and found more than 83 million instances of spyware. "This represents an average of 26 spyware programs per scanned PC," Baker said.

"Our legislation gives consumers back their privacy and puts them in charge of what gets into their computers by making these invasive and destructive practices illegal," said Walden, who was again named to the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet and reappointed to serve as vice chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

"I know how costly and frustrating it is to individuals and businesses when their computers get hijacked and their information is stolen or destroyed. This is an important piece of legislation for consumer protection and personal privacy," said Walden. He and his wife are small business owners in Hood River and The Dalles where they've operated a radio station company for nearly 19 years.

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