- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2000

The lack of computer-crime laws in the Philippines could mean that the creator of the "love bug" virus that disabled computer systems worldwide will escape prosecution.

Filipino Chief State Counsel Elmer Bautista said in a memo made public yesterday that suspects cannot be charged under the law local authorities believed offered the best hope for prosecution.

"Nowhere in the law is 'computer hacking' … and the effects thereof dealt with," Mr. Bautista said in a memorandum to the secretary of justice, obtained yesterday by the Associated Press.

The Philippines has no law specifically addressing high-tech computer crimes and had decided to use a law regulating the use of access devices, like credit cards, account numbers and passwords to obtain money or services.

Mr. Bautista said that "the intention of a computer hacker … is not to defraud, but to destroy files."

The lack of computer-crime laws in the Philippines also could make extradition efforts more difficult, experts said.

Suspects can be extradited to the United States to face charges only if the country where the crime was committed has a law similar to the U.S. law that officials claim was broken. The United States also must have an extradition agreement with the country in question before someone will be transported here to face charges.

"If the access-devices law doesn't work, if there's no charge that's comparable to U.S. charges, that's where it torpedoes extradition," said Susan Brenner, a computer-crime expert at the University of Dayton Law School in Ohio.

"It's conceivable someone could go scot-free," said David Kennedy, director of research services at Reston-based computer consulting company ICSA.net Inc.

"If the Filipinos can't find some provision under their laws to charge someone, it could be a show-stopper," he said.

Stein Schjolberg, a Norwegian judge who tracks computer-criminal laws around the globe, lists 37 countries on his Web site that have computer-crime laws. The Philippines is not one of those countries.

David Green, deputy chief of the computer crime and intellectual-property section of the U.S. Department of Justice, declined to discuss extradition efforts because the investigation into the e-mail attack hasn't concluded.

The "love bug" virus, released May 4, wreaked havoc on computers in offices from Ford Motor Co. to the U.S. House of Representatives and the British Parliament.

The virus was released when attachments were opened on computers using Microsoft Outlook, a software program that runs e-mail. Once the virus infected a computer, it destroyed files on the user's own hard drive and on networks to which users were connected. The virus was erasing the content of music and photo files and copying itself into those files.

Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, said letting someone go who is responsible for the virus could cause outrage.

Industry experts testifying before Congress last week said damage estimates from the virus range from more than $950 million in North America to $6 billion worldwide.

Mr. Miller said damage could reach as high as $15 billion worldwide.

"It would be very unfortunate if the Filipinos have no laws on the books to punish the person who caused $15 billion in damage worldwide," he said.

Bill Pollak, spokesman at the Computer Emergency Response Team, which tracks computer viruses at Carnegie-Mellon University, said 650 reports to the university's computer group revealed at least 500,000 computers worldwide were damaged in attacks by the virus.

But the actual number of computers damaged is far higher, he said.

"That's a very small percentage of what was actually hit," Mr. Pollak said. "It's just really hard to say how many were affected."

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