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A computer technician saw his convictions for maliciously spreading a computer virus struck out after a court decided his actions caused minimal financial loss.

Last September, Herbert Pierre-Louis was found guilty by a jury of two counts of deliberately infecting the computer systems of his former employer, Purity Wholesale Grocers of Boca Raton, Florida. The prosecution argued that Pierre-Louis was motivation for his crime was a reprimand by his supervisor for work related problems ten days before the virus was transmitted, in June 1998.

The case was only the second in the nation, brought under 18 U.S.C. Section 1030, which makes it a federal crime to send a computer virus that causes at least $5,000 in damage.

At trial it was said that the virus put Purity's computer system out of operation for several days and ultimately cost the company over $75,000. Pierre-Louis faced a sentence of up to three-and-a-half years in federal prison, and a fine of up to $250,000.

But yesterday a Florida jury decided that the loss was less than $5,000, the minimum required for a conviction. Based on this US District Judge Alan Gold "erased" the conviction, AP reports.

The news agency reports that the prosecution intends to appeal, but it seems that Pierre-Louis may escape punishment by exploiting a legal loophole (concerning a narrow definition of hacking) which has since been closed.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was amended last year to expand the definition of loss to include lost revenue from interrupted service as well as repair costs in assessing the damage caused by hacking. ®

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