House panel approves anti-spyware bill

WASHINGTON Thu Apr 19, 2007 7:59pm EDT

Juan Rubio checks out a MacBook Pro at the Apple Store in Salt Lake City, Utah in this October 18, 2006 file photo. Legislation that would help protect consumers from harmful spyware that can harvest personal data from a user's computer was approved on Thursday by a U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. REUTERS/George Frey

Juan Rubio checks out a MacBook Pro at the Apple Store in Salt Lake City, Utah in this October 18, 2006 file photo. Legislation that would help protect consumers from harmful spyware that can harvest personal data from a user's computer was approved on Thursday by a U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.

Credit: Reuters/George Frey

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Legislation that would help protect consumers from harmful spyware that can harvest personal data from a user's computer was approved on Thursday by a U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.

Spyware invades computers as users browse certain Web sites, resulting in repeated intrusive and aggressive advertisements. Some spyware programs can also steal addresses, telephone numbers or credit card information without the knowledge of the computer user.

"Protecting Internet users from dangerous programs that steal consumers' identities, invade their software or just plain harass them is a top priority," said Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, chairman of the full committee.

The bill would require software distributors and advertisers to clearly notify and obtain consent from consumers before their programs can be loaded onto a computer. Violators could be fined up to $3 million for each unfair or deceptive act.

The Energy and Commerce Committee's panel on commerce, trade and consumer protection approved the bill on a voice vote. It plans to hold a May hearing on computer data breaches at retailer TJX Cos. Inc., which recently reported information was stolen on more than 45 million credit and debit cards.

The legislation next moves to the full committee for consideration.

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