Government close to spyware law decision

The federal government is considering the possible introduction of new legislation in an effort to stamp out the malicious use of spyware; a decision is due by the end of the year following the completion of a legislative review.

Currently the government defines spyware as any software application that is generally installed without the knowledge or consent of the user, to obtain, use or interfere with personal information or computer resources, content and settings for malicious or undesirable purposes.

Computerworld understands that the review, currently with the Attorney General's department, is drawing to a close and appears likely to recommend the closure of loopholes that may allow spyware promulgators to operate in Australia.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General's department confirmed the review is well underway, but refused to comment on whether any specific legislative deficiencies have been identified.

The spokesperson said that, at the conclusion of the review, recommendations on whether legislative changes were needed would be sent to Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan.

In August 2004 Coonan said that spyware was of national concern, vowing at the time that if legislation was needed, it would come.

"Spyware is increasingly being employed to invade privacy and undertake other illegal activity by harvesting users' personal and financial information.

"Any response to spyware needs to recognize that it employs the same building blocks as legitimate and beneficial software and Web applications but subverts them to a malicious end," Coonan said.

Some IT security industry leaders are cautious of the introduction of any new spyware laws arguing the transitory nature of technology could make it hard to pin down specific offences not already covered by respective Privacy, Telecommunications Interception and Crimes Acts.

Managing director of cryptography firm Eracom and chairman of the Australian IT Security Forum (a sub group of hardware lobby industry group the Australian Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers Association) Dr Wolfgang Klemm said that introducing spyware legislation could prove tricky because of a negative burden of responsibility on potential users.

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