Recently I held a series of On-Line Safety Workshops throughout the District focusing on some of the most pervasive threats that computer users face when they go online today.
One of the current issues we hear about is spam which is no longer just a nuisance. These unwanted messages burden consumers by slowing down their e-mail and Internet connections and making children vulnerable to pornography and other undesirable e-mail junk.
Congress passed the Can Spam Act last year, which 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 more sophisticated way of obtaining folks' personal financial information-the objective is simply to deceive people into divulging this information with the intent of committing identity theft or running up bills in their name.
Similarly "spyware" is software that is secretly downloaded onto computers without the user's knowledge, and is then used to gather personal information.
The FTC's web site www.ftc.gov is an excellent resource and the appropriate place to report scams diverse in nature. Congress and the Administration continue 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.
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 is related to the proliferation of peer-to-peer technology, "P2P,"-software that connects your personal computer to other computers that use the same software, otherwise know as "file-sharing". 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.
In addition, the Internet presents unique challenges to protecting our children online. Parents must be vigilant in ensuring that our children are communicating safely online. Here are some useful tips. Require your child to get permission from you before going online. Make sure your child is not communicating with strangers of any age online. 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 and learn. 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.