According to a recent survey by the National Cybersecurity Alliance, over 90 percent of consumers have some type of spyware on their computers, and the vast majority are unaware that it is there.
Speaking on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Conyers (D-Mich.) said that "[s]oftware and electronic communications are increasingly being used by criminals to invade individuals and businesses' computers without authorization. These practices undermine consumer confidence in the integrity and security of the Internet itself."
Representative Conyers was speaking in support of a new bill, the Internet Spyware (I-Spy) Prevention Act of 2007, which passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday. The legislation creates a new federal crime, the illicit indirect use of protected computers, and appropriates $10 million in each of the next four years to assist the Justice Department in prosecuting phishing and pharming.
Regulating Behavior, Not Technology
The main sponsors for the bill were Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). "This is a bipartisan measure," Lofgren said yesterday, "that identifies the truly unscrupulous acts associated with spyware and subjects them to criminal punishment. This bill is the right approach because it focuses on behavior, not technology. It targets the worst forms of spyware without unduly burdening technological innovation."
Earlier versions of the I-Spy Prevention Act were opposed by leading technology firms on the grounds that they contained language that might criminalize the development and implementation of certain types of technology and thus would have a chilling effect on innovation.
Representative Goodlatte acknowledged the concern: "The I-Spy Prevention Act also avoids excessive regulation and its repercussions," he said, "including the increased likelihood that an overly regulatory approach focusing on technology would have unintended consequences that could discourage consumer use of the Internet, as well as the creation of new technologies and services on the Internet."
Goodlatte argued that the I-Spy Prevention Act will promote consumer access to cutting-edge products and services at lower prices by encouraging innovation.
Final Passage Uncertain
Similar legislation has passed the House of Representatives in the last two years, but the Senate (in part due to the Silicon Valley concerns) has not considered the issue. There is no antispyware legislation currently pending before the Senate.
Representative Lofgren, whose district covers part of Silicon Valley, said that the revised bill now has broad commercial support. "Legislation that attempts to control technology can also have the pernicious effect of chilling innovation by chilling investment into prohibited technological arenas," she said. "[The I-Spy Prevention Act] avoids these pitfalls by focusing on bad conduct, and that's why it has the broad support in my district in Silicon Valley, California."
She added that the legislation is important not merely for consumers and businesses, who so often are the victims of phishing and pharming, but also for the health of the nation's high-tech economy.