Accusing the technology industry of failing to regulate itself, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., introduced a bill Thursday that would make it illegal for companies to install spyware on PCs without consent.
Pryor said that unwanted software hurts economic, security, and privacy interests of businesses and consumers.
"The industry has failed in self-regulating," Pryor said in a prepared statement. "It's time to step in and enact serious consequences against those who use this invasive and deceptive practice."
The Southern Democrat is targeting spyware installed with other software, as well as so-called "drive-by downloads," in which a software is covertly installed when an Internet user clicks on a link.
Pryor pointed out that the unwanted software can be extremely difficult to remove. He cited an AOL study that concluded 80% of computers in a test group were infected and 89% of users were unaware that spyware had infected their machines. Pryor introduced the Counter Spy Act of 2007 after holding hearings on the issue. He said it would deter companies and fraudsters from embedding of spyware on users' computers without first obtaining their consent.
The bill would make installing spyware an unfair or deceptive practice. It covers hijacking, spam, denial of service, pop-ups, changing default home page and security settings, Web proxies, and toolbar setups as well. Additionally, it would give the Federal Trade Commission enforcement power over violators, who could face civil or criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment.
"Spyware is a serious infringement upon basic levels of privacy and security," Pryor said. "There are very few, if any, legitimate reasons for this practice to continue but countless reasons for it to be stopped, including identity theft and sluggish computer performance."
Similar measures have passed the House of Representatives. The Information Technology Association of America has opposed such legislation in the past but did not provide immediate comment on the latest attempt to pass federal laws to stop spyware.