The US House of Representatives has passed an anti-spyware bill, but the measure must be passed by the Senate before it becomes law. The Senate does not currently have anti-spyware legislation in front of it.
The bill passed by a voice vote in the House this week is a less radical law than some of the alternative proposals that have been circulating House committees. It does not contain a demand that users be notified before software is installed, a crucial element of a similar bill.
The bill creates a penalty of up to five years in jail for people using spyware to commit fraud.
Spyware is a collective term for software that gathers information about computer users. At its most benign it delivers unwanted advertising. At its most dangerous it allows a third party to learn usernames, passwords and account details and defraud the user.
It is most commonly downloaded as an unannounced component of free software, as a part of downloaded games or as a result of a virus.
A competing bill which recently received the endorsement of the House Energy and Commerce Committee was more stringent. It required the distributors of programs to notify users and obtain their consent before a piece of software was downloaded. The software industry opposed that element of the proposed bill.
The House has twice before proposed anti-spyware legislation, but each time the Senate did not approve the new laws.
Spyware can be illegal in the UK under the Computer Misuse Act and adware can fall foul of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations if it is installed by stealth.