Smell that? No, it's not the cow barn. It's election season approaching. It's the smell of feel-good, do-little legislation, the kind of laws that mean to convince us that Congress really cares. Unfortunately, these often create unnecessary and expensive hurdles for businesses and consumers. The latest example?
House bill H.R. 2929, unanimously approved yesterday by the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee, carries the important-sounding title the "Safeguard against privacy invasions act." It aims to stop spyware (Boo! Hiss!) from being loaded onto our computers by requiring -- prepare to be awed by congressional creativity -- licensing agreements. (Cheering! Sound of trumpets!)
Of course, we all loathe the spyware that sometimes kludges up our computers, but we are already barraged by licensing agreements at every turn. Most people click "accept" without reading a word of what's in front of them. Spyware writers depend on this. That's why most of it is installed by users who aren't paying attention while they set up the slimy, peer-to-peer, file-swiping client du jour. This bill will do nothing to change that.
Instead, it will cause headaches for legitimate software vendors like Microsoft
And the purveyors of truly malicious code like keyloggers will be untouched. Phishers, hackers, and trojan writers don't worry much about the law. And in the event that they're caught, how do representatives plan to squeeze multimillion-dollar fines out of pimply, Dubuque script kiddies or Ukrainian hacker rings?
They don't, because this is all a show, designed to convince Ma and Pa Kettle that the government can protect them from the big bad digital bogeymen. Even the Federal Trade Commission, which would be charged with enforcing this would-be law, says it is unnecessary. (Need we mention that there are good, free programs out there that can keep your machine safe?) But just watch. This bill will pass anyway, and it will play well back on Main Street. And you and I will pay the price.
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