US lawmakers OK anti-spyware legislation

The US House of Representatives passed legislation to combat the criminal use of Internet spyware and other scams aimed at stealing personal information from computer users, an Associated Press report said.

The Associated Press report quoted the bill's Democratic sponsor, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, as saying spyware 'is one of the biggest threats to consumers on the Internet.'

The Associated Press report said the lawmaker and other lawmakers cited estimates that up to 90% of computers in this country are infected with some forms of spyware.

Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte, co-sponsor of the bill, was also quoted as saying that it had been written so that it 'protects consumers by imposing stiff penalties on the truly bad actors' while protecting legitimate online businesses that are developing new services to keep track of user preferences.

The Associated Press report said the bill would make it a criminal offense, subject to a prison term of up to five years, to gain unauthorized access to a computer to help carry out another federal offense.

Obtaining or transmitting personal information with the intent of injuring or defrauding a person or damaging a computer would be punishable by up to two years in prison, the report said.

The measure approves $10 million a year over the next four years to help the Justice Department fight other computer scams such as 'phishing,' the use of fake emails or Websites to trick consumers into providing bank account numbers or credit card or other personal information, and 'pharming,' in which hackers redirect Internet traffic to fake sites to steal personal information, the report said.