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House Has New Crime Bill

Broader, tougher computer crime legislation is proposed by members of the US House of Representatives

Congress is proposing to get tougher on computer crime -- again.

The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security Thursday heard testimony on a newly introduced bill that promises to expand current laws to account for new types of exploits and vulnerabilities. However, with two other bills already floating around the Capitol, it will probably be some time before any definitive legislation is passed into law.

The new bill, dubbed the "Cyber-Security Enhancement and Consumer Data Protection Act of 2006" (H.R. 5318), was proposed by House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and committee members Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

The full text of the bill isn't yet available online, but in a hearing held yesterday, members of the House Judiciary Committee outlined some of the highlights. According to Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), chairman of the subcommittee, the new legislation will tighten up current laws and stiffen the maximum penalty for computer crimes to 30 years.

In addition, the proposed legislation expands the definition of the phrase "protected computer" to include a wider variety of devices and data, and it offers specific language to outlaw the creation and use of botnets, Coble said. It also extends the RICOH Act to allow law enforcement agencies to investigate organized syndicates of attackers who work together to steal and sell personal or business-sensitive data.

Industry groups and law enforcement agencies were generally supportive of the bill, but several experts said they would like the language to go further than it does. Susanna Montezemolo, policy analyst for the Consumers Union, noted that the bill does not require corporations to tell users when a suspected violation of their data occurs, therefore nullifying some state laws that do.

Laura Parsky, deputy assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice's Criminal Division, said federal law enforcement agencies would like to see fewer limitations on the crimes that federal agencies can investigate. Currently, a computer crime must total $5,000 or more before the feds can be called in.

And several observers expressed skepticism that any bill can be passed until different House and Senate subcommittees can get together and come up with a common proposal. Currently, the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection -- a part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee -- is considering H.R. 3997 and H.R. 4127, which propose new regulations on the security of financial information and personal data.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading