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Antispyware bill clears another hurdle

Once again, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee unanimously approves a bill designed to put spyware purveyors behind bars. Politicians hope it will be enacted this year.

As expected, the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill aimed at criminalizing spyware used for malicious purposes.

An identical version of the Internet Spyware Prevention Act, chiefly sponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) passed the full House in the last congressional session by a 395-1 vote.

The bill, which was approved by a House Judiciary subcommittee on Tuesday, proposes punishing those who sneak code onto computers without authorization in an attempt to "impair" the security protections on a machine, transmit personal information about the machine's user, or commit other federal crimes. Violations would carry prison sentences of up to five years.

The bill would also allocate $10 million for the Department of Justice in an effort to help it combat spyware, phishing and other online scams.

Congress has been attempting to pass antispyware bills since 2003. A different, more prescriptive bill--which has drawn opposition from online advertisers and skepticism from Lofgren and Goodlatte--is still pending.

Although high-tech companies like Microsoft, Symantec and Dell have applauded the proposal approved Wednesday, the need for new laws is less apparent.

In the past, the Federal Trade Commission has sued spyware purveyors and has suggested it already has ample authority in that area--although it has also asked Congress for beefed-up fining powers more recently. Justice Department prosecutors have also brought cases against spyware outfits in recent years.

The bill goes next to the full House for approval. It was not immediately clear when that would happen or what the Senate's plans will be. Previous attempts at enacting such legislation have failed because they died before Senate consideration.