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US House passes another anti-spyware bill

The cure could be worse than the sickness

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The US House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed legislation designed to protect PC users from spyware despite the strong objections of internet-based businesses that warned the measure could interfere with many legitimate online activities.

House members passed the Spy Act by a margin of 368-48. It is significantly stricter than a competing measure dubbed the Internet Spyware (I-SPY) Prevention Act, which the House passed last month and enjoys the backing of a broad swath of technology companies.

The Spy Act calls for penalties for anyone who causes software to be installed on a PC without first clearly notifying and receiving the consent of the end user. It also proposes punishments for those who distribute software that tries to bypass a computer's security mechanisms, transmits personal information about the user without notification or is used to carry out a federal crime.

"The bill, as currently drafted, would regulate every Web site on the Internet and for any site that collects any 'personal' information, a proscriptive notice pop-up box would appear," Mike Zaneis, an opponent of the bill and a vice president with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, told CNET News.com. "Congress is not capable of carving out all of the benign technologies that currently exist or will be developed in the future." Among the legitimate activities critics say could be threatened by the bill is the use of cookies.

Instead, technology companies are throwing their weight behind the I-SPY Prevention Act, which takes a much narrower approach to combating the malware scourge.

Lawmakers in the Senate have yet to take up either issue.

In other spyware related news on Wednesday, Zango, which last year agreed to pay the Federal Trade Commission $3m to settle charges of deceptive software downloads, lost yet another motion for a temporary restraining order against an anti-malware firm. The latest failed bid came in a lawsuit challenging Kaspersky's blocking of Zango crudware. Similar to a ruling yesterday by the same judge in a similar suit Zango filed against PC Tools, the ruling (PDF) upheld the antivirus maker's right to block software it considers malware. Zango's response is here. ®

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