New e-commerce law won't stop hackers: Philippine prosecutor

HONG KONG -- A Philippines law that was recently passed isn't specific enough to punish future computer hackers like the creator of the disastrous "I Love You" computer virus, the country's chief prosecutor said today.

Charges were dropped earlier this week against Onel de Guzman (see story), who was suspected of creating and disseminating the catastrophic Love Bug virus in May, because the Department of Justice (DOJ) lacked a law under which it could charge de Guzman, said Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito R. Zuno.

The E-Commerce Act, which includes provisions against hacking, in addition to providing legal status and guidelines for online transactions, was passed in June. That law couldn't be applied retroactively against de Guzman, Zuno said.

However, the law as it stands is also not specific enough for future prosecutions in cases such as the Love Bug virus, Zuno said.

"It doesn't squarely apply on computer offenses. If we ever have a law on computer offenses, that law should illuminate acts that would constitute a violation," Zuno said.

"I have asked the House of Representatives and the Senate if they could speed deliberations on a bill covering computer offenses," he added.

De Guzman, 23, a former student at Amable Mendoza Aguiluz Computer college in Manila, was charged in June with theft, under a Philippines law that traditionally covers credit-card fraud, and faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of 10,000 pesos, or $222 or more. He has been released from custody, Zuno said.

The DOJ dismissed the criminal charges, which were filed by the National Bureau of Investigation.

Archimedes Manabat, one of the member prosecutors of the three-man DOJ panel that reviewed the case, confirmed that the department cleared de Guzman of all charges in a resolution approved by Zuno early last week.

De Guzman, suspected of writing the virus with college friend Michael Buen, was charged with theft and violating the Access Device Regulation Act.

Government officials are continuing to investigate de Guzman's involvement in the case, Zuno said, but he would not specify under what law the government hopes eventually to charge him.

Complementary laws that will flesh out the criminal provisions of the E-Commerce Act are now moving through the House and Senate, said Ramon Ike Villareal Seneres, director general of the government's National Computer Center.

Despite the dropping of charges against a suspect in one of the most infamous hacking cases in history, the Philippines is heading off developing a reputation as a threat to Internet security, Villareal Seneres said.

"The whole community will see it as a positive move on our part that we've passed the E-Commerce Act," Villareal Seneres said.

Within the government, Villareal Seneres is leading an initiative to coordinate all agencies' security systems to defend against such attacks, he added.

Additional reporting by Computerworld Philippines staff writer Jennifer Bagalawis.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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