The Senate's SPY BLOCK Act criminalizes the unauthorized installation of computer software and requires clear disclosure to computer users of software features that may pose a threat to privacy.
The bill targets three main consumer harms: taking control of a user's computer; software that triggers advertising out of context with the use of the computer; and undisclosed collection of personal information.
"Congress must act to protect the right of consumers to know when potentially dangerous spyware is being downloaded onto their computers," bill sponsor Conrad Burns (R.-Mont.) said in a statement.
"As the SPYBLOCK Act moves forward to the Senate floor, I hope we can continue making it a stronger bill by making sure the private sector has all the right tools it needs to successfully slow the spread of malicious spyware."
Burns' bill identifies a series of unfair and deceptive practices related to spyware, including computer hijacking, spam zombies, endless-loop pop-up ads and fraudulent and false installation.
The bill also bans modem hijacking, which allows spyware companies to charge overseas phone calls to victims and Denial-of-Service attacks, which coordinate computers to attack Web sites.
The legislation also strengthens Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforcement and gives both the FTC and state attorneys general the authority to enforce provisions of the bill. Additionally, it creates a new section in the criminal code establishing criminal penalties for the unauthorized copying of software to a protected computer.
An amendment to SPY BLOCK by John Sununu (R.-N.H.) would increase civil penalties for violations involving unfair or deceptive acts or practices that exploit popular reaction to an emergency or major disaster.