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House panel passes spyware permission bill

No more sneaking monitoring software onto people's PCs if this becomes law.

A U.S. House subcommittee approved a bill on Thursday that would regulate computer "spyware," forcing software makers to notify consumers before installing some kinds of monitoring programs on their PCs.

The bill, introduced by California Republican Mary Bono and New York Democrat Ed Towns, is one of several of annoying or potentially dangerous applications known as "spyware," "adware" or "malware."

"We are one step closer to restoring safety, confidence and control to consumers when using their own computers," Bono said following the bill's approval by the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection.

The issue of spyware has been over several years, peaking this session with several bills introduced in Congress and in a handful of state legislatures around the country.

Many lawmakers are eager to do something about an issue that has angered constituents, many of whom complain bitterly about incessant pop-up advertisements triggered by adware programs, or about the potential of software spying on their online actions.

Big companies are fearful that any legislation passed might inadvertently affect the operation of legitimate software, and are advocating against state-level laws.

Bono and Towns' H.R. 2929, now renamed the "Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass Act," was amended in committee to bar practices such as key logging--a way of spying on computer users' actions by recording every stroke on the keyboard--and the display of advertisements that can not be closed.

Bono and Towns' bill will be heard next by the full House Energy and Commerce Committee. A similar bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate, and is currently being reviewed by the Commerce Committee there.