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Home > Past Releases and Reports > Fast-Track Federal 'Spyware' Legislation Doomed to Fail

For Immediate Release
June 23, 2004

Contact: Jim Harper

(202) 546-3701

Fast-Track Federal 'Spyware' Legislation Doomed to Fail

Ignoring Recent Failures, Congress Again Seeks to Regulate Technology, Create Bogus Privacy Protections

Washington, D.C. Federal 'spyware' legislation moving rapidly through the House of Representatives would not improve life for American consumers, according to privacy think-tank

The "SPY ACT," slated for markup in the House Commerce Committee Thursday, would lamely attempt to outlaw "spyware" on Americans' computers, and require unworkable and unwanted privacy notices.

"Congress is poised to repeat some of its worst recent failures," said Jim Harper, Editor of "Congress didn't eliminate spam with the CAN-SPAM law. Congress didn't create privacy with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley law. But they're at it again with 'spyware.'"

"Spyware" is the colloquial name for software applications having any of three harmful characteristics:

  • Spyware may be secretly downloaded or placed on users' computers.
  • Spyware collects and transmits information contrary to users' interests.
  • Spyware resists users' efforts to remove it.
The "SPY ACT" would outlaw twenty different software practices and require "notice and consent" procedures for "information collection" programs.

"Like spam, spyware comes from people who don't care what the law is, and people who can't be found," said Harper. "As with spam, technology will control the problem, not law. This anti-spyware law would saddle legitimate companies with regulation and frustrate innovation, but it wouldn't serve consumers."

Congress has tried before to mandate "notice and consent" privacy protections, as well. The Financial Services Modernization Act, also known as Gramm-Leach-Bliley, required billions of privacy notices to be mailed to consumers. The vast majority threw them in the trash. The SPY ACT would repeat this process in the online environment, thrusting notices on consumers at arbitrary times and in arbitrary forms.

"People have to learn about privacy at 'teachable moments,'" said Harper. "Politicians shouldn't replace real consumer education with flat, dull notice mandates. A lot of corporations might like a notice mandate because it would help them escape proving their privacy bona fides in the marketplace, but notice mandates are bogus privacy protection." ( is an innovative Web site that captures "privacy" as a public policy issue. Privacilla has been described as a "privacy policy portal" and an "online think-tank."


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