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This week on the Hill

The U.S. Senate unanimously votes to impose a sweeping set of identification requirements on Americans.

Last-minute attempts by online activists to halt a bill that would create federal electronic ID cards failed this week, when the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to impose a sweeping set of identification requirements on Americans.

The so-called Real ID Act now heads to President Bush, who is expected to sign the bill into law this month. Its backers, including the Bush administration, say it's needed to stop illegal immigrants from obtaining drivers' licenses.

If the act's mandates take effect in May 2008, as expected, Americans will be required to obtain federally approved ID cards with "machine readable technology" that abides by Department of Homeland Security specifications. Anyone without such an ID card will be effectively prohibited from traveling by air or Amtrak, opening a bank account, or entering federal buildings.

Congress didn't quite get around to approving an anti-spyware bill last year--it died while awaiting a Senate floor vote. Now members of the Senate Commerce Committee are promising to avoid a repeat of last year's lapse. During a hearing, politicians said spyware was a growing threat that requires prompt action by Congress.

It's not clear, though, how much a new federal law can accomplish. The Can-Spam Act of 2003 hasn't exactly eliminated junk e-mail so far, and both the FTC and the Justice Department say they already have the power to investigate and punish the worst offenders. Also, no U.S. law can hope to reach offshore Web sites.

Congress is also returning to the controversial topic of whether to renew key portions of the Patriot Act. Both the Senate and House of Representatives held hearings that are part of an extended process of reviewing the portions of the 2001 law that are scheduled to expire on Dec. 31. Many of those 16 portions deal with computer and Internet surveillance.

Politicians are nervous about being criticized for a repeat of the process that led to the rapid-fire enactment of the Patriot Act just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. At the time, members of Congress were required to vote on the legislation without having time to read it in advance, and little debate was permitted. standard programming typically found on living room TVs. If the market for the content is indeed robust, such a service could generate significant new revenue streams for wireless operators.

Let the games begin
Microsoft has beaten rivals to the starting line with an exhibition of its newest game console. The software giant unveiled the Xbox 360 during a pretaped MTV broadcast Thursday night, edging out Sony and Nintendo to become the first to reveal details of a new console.

Xbox 360 The most anticipated feature among the Xbox 360's specifications is its high-definition picture display. Pricing for the device hasn't been announced yet, but executives have said the console will be shipped in Asia, Europe and North America by the holiday season.

The Xbox 360 will display games in high definition when used with HDTVs, but it will scale down to the best resolution of the television set, Microsoft said. In addition, the redesigned white console will be able to connect to the Xbox Live marketplace using a built-in Ethernet port and broadband Internet access. At the marketplace, gamers will be able to download content such as new game trailers, new game levels, weapons and vehicles for games, and more.

With high-definition graphics, incredibly fast processors and surround sound, the experience will be leaps and bounds beyond anything console gamers have seen before.

However, there are potential consequences to such high-level entertainment on the Xbox and PlayStation consoles. Game developers are worried that the industry will become ever more like Hollywood, with huge budgets, huge productions and lots of sequels, dominated by the few big companies that can afford to produce a top-shelf title.

The consoles are expected to take center stage at next week's Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, where trends, and in some cases bets, are set. During the holidays, companies watch to see whether their bets paid off. At this year's E3, slated to run from Monday through next Friday in Los Angeles, all bets will be on new gaming consoles from the big three players--Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo.

"The major console makers are going to lay...the groundwork for the next generation, and all the developers and publishers are going to get, in some cases, their first looks at the new features," said Schelley Olhava, game analyst with research company IDC.

On the Hill
Last-minute attempts by online activists to halt a bill that would create federal electronic ID cards failed this week, when the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to impose a sweeping set of identification requirements on Americans. The so-called Real ID Act now heads to President Bush, who is expected to sign the bill into law this month. Its backers, including the Bush administration, say it's needed to stop illegal immigrants from obtaining drivers' licenses.

If the act's mandates take effect in May 2008, as expected, Americans will be required to obtain federally approved ID cards with "machine readable technology" that abides by Department of Homeland Security specifications. Anyone without such an ID card will be effectively prohibited from traveling by air or Amtrak, opening a bank account, or entering federal buildings.

Congress didn't quite get around to approving an anti-spyware bill last year--it died while awaiting a Senate floor vote. Now members of the Senate Commerce Committee are promising to avoid a repeat of last year's lapse. During a hearing, politicians said spyware was a growing threat that requires prompt action by Congress.

It's not clear, though, how much a new federal law can accomplish. The Can-Spam Act of 2003 hasn't exactly eliminated junk e-mail so far, and both the FTC and the Justice Department say they already have the power to investigate and punish the worst offenders. Also, no U.S. law can hope to reach offshore Web sites.

Congress is also returning to the controversial topic of whether to renew key portions of the Patriot Act. Both the Senate and House of Representatives held hearings that are part of an extended process of reviewing the portions of the 2001 law that are scheduled to expire on Dec. 31. Many of those 16 portions deal with computer and Internet surveillance.

Politicians are nervous about being criticized for a repeat of the process that led to the rapid-fire enactment of the Patriot Act just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. At the time, members of Congress were required to vote on the legislation without having time to read it in advance, and little debate was permitted.

Also of note
Taiwan's Via Technologies plans to promote PCs that will sell for close to $250 this fall in an attempt to gain ground in the consumer market...Google has stopped allowing downloads of its Web Accelerator software, just days after it began offering the product...A security update for the Firefox open-source browser has been released by the Mozilla Foundation, a move that follows the public disclosure of exploit code for two "extremely critical" vulnerabilities...A Florida regulation that threatened to tax Internet phone networks has been repealed.

Reuters contributed to this report.