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Love Bug suspects can't be charged

State counsel says fraud law doesn't apply

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The Philippine Department of Justice has ruled that a law invoked against suspects in the Love Bug e-mail worm case can't be stretched to apply to hacking, the Associated Press reports.

The decision will hamstring investigators, who were forced to scramble to find a basis to charge the suspects, since hacking is not a crime under Philippine law.

After an extensive period of head-scratching, frustrated National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents settled on a 1998 law dealing with the fraudulent use of credit cards, account numbers and passwords. The law carries a ghastly penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

Because the Love Bug gathered passwords from infected computers and forwarded them via e-mail, investigators thought the fraud law might apply. However, Chief State Counsel Elmer Bautista decided it was too much of a stretch.

"Nowhere in the law is 'computer hacking'... and the effects thereof dealt with," Bautista wrote in a memorandum obtained Wednesday by AP.

"The intention of a computer hacker... is not to defraud," so hacking "cannot be considered covered" by fraud legislation, Bautista wrote. The NBI said it would not question Bautista's decision.

The investigation originally focused on a Manila flat where a telephone line, traced with caller ID, is thought to have been used to release the worm. One of the residents, computer enthusiast Onel de Guzman, has admitted that he might have released the bug accidentally.

De Guzman recently failed to graduate from AMA Computer College after his thesis had been rejected as a method to steal passwords and enable free use of the Net, a feature found in the Love Bug. The bug was released on 4 May, the day before de Guzman would have graduated if his thesis had been approved.

Investigators subsequently found a second virus on a floppy disk seized in de Guzman's flat. De Guzman denies writing it, and local authorities believe his classmate at the AMA college, Michael Buen, may have.

The disk contained a warning, apparently written by Buen, saying, "If I don't get a stable job by the end of the month, I will release a third virus that will remove all files from the primary disk."

Over 40 people received shouts in another file on the disk, most of them students from the AMA college which Buen and de Guzman attended.

Buen graduated from AMA college on 5 May, the day after the Love Bug was released. He steadfastly denies writing or spreading it. ®

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