Sometimes legislation is introduced with the aim of addressing a certain problem, but as the bill evolves and more Congressmen provide input, quite a different issue is addressed. Such has been the odyssey of the “Spy Act.”

In 2004, the U.S. House of Representatives considered a bill (H.R. 2929) to prohibit “spyware,” a type of computer program that tracks website activities, logs keystrokes, and in severe cases steals people’s personal information off their hard drive. Spyware is a very significant problem for the research community to address because it erodes consumer trust in a medium that more research companies are using for data collection.

This impacts panel companies, survey companies, audience measurement companies, sample companies, and other types of research companies. Therefore, CMOR had no qualms supporting this approach.

However, other concerns soon crept into the bill and the potential for “collateral damage” became a very real possibility for research companies. Specifically, cookies were roped in, which presented a severe problem for many CMOR members. If Congress banned cookies, many of the measurement infrastructures used by research companies to measure online audiences and media would be threatened.

When 2004 ended, the bill had been passed by the House, but not by the Senate. The 108th Congress was over and the bill died along with it. Still, we knew the same measure would develop again in the 109 th Congress in 2005, since it had passed the House by such a convincing margin.

Rep. Mary Bono, Republican of California, reintroduced the bill this past January with the cookie section intact. CMOR went to work with three groups: the Members of Congress who sit on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which is considering this bill; the staffers who work for the Committee itself; and a coalition of fellow associations and companies who shared CMOR’s concerns.

While we made a number of our own contacts on the Committee, it is equally significant that we engaged in a coalition. Getting on board with a larger collective effort to combat legislation can be a highly effective way to impact a bill. As a result, the documents we shared with Committee staffers themselves were also attached to all working group correspondence as well.

In the end, the House Committee acknowledged our concerns and an amendment was introduced by Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida to address the cookie problem. The amendment was offered in the Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection subcommittee, which Rep. Stearns chairs. Having passed by unanimous vote, the amended bill now goes back to the full Energy and Commerce committee with a vastly reduced impact on cookies and our profession.

There are other issues with this legislation, and even with the cookie amendment it is far from perfect. However, we’re working with these same groups to help produce federal legislation that addresses and punishes bad actors, while leaving legitimate research companies free to pursue their intended aims. We will keep you informed of our progress.

This is one example of CMOR’s Washington activities. We hope you will support us as we continue along the path to legislative and regulatory protection!