US moves closer to punitive spyware law

The US House of Representatives has voted for new penalties for distributors of internet spyware that secretly monitors users’...

The US House of Representatives has voted for new penalties for distributors of internet spyware that secretly monitors users’ activities. 

By big majorities, the House passed two bills to increase jail sentences and introduce multimillion-dollar fines for criminals who use spyware to steal credit card numbers and other associated crimes. 

Criminals can use spyware to capture passwords, account numbers and other sensitive data, and it can also degrade the performance of PCs.

The bills prohibit a number of practices associated with spyware, including reprogramming a home page on a user’s web browser, launching pop-up ads that can’t be closed without the user having to restart their PC, or installing key-loggers on machines to capture user passwords and other sensitive data.

The bills also aim to tackle the growing problem of phishing, which sees scammers setting up fake financial services websites to defraud users.

The House voted to impose jail sentences of up to two years for spyware offences, and fines of up to $3m (£1.6m) for each incident.

The House also wants to give the US Department of Justice an additional $10m a year until 2009 to fight spyware.

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