Global viruses require global therapy

Editorial Comment, Wednesday, May 10, 2000

If the world is to combat the threat of global computer crime, like the "Love Bug" virus that wreaked havoc last week, the nations of the world must work in greater harmony.

   THE "LOVE BUG" computer virus spread faster than any of its biological analogues possibly could. Within hours of its release last week, presumably in the Philippines, it had raced around the globe to infect government, business and home software via a Microsoft e-mail program, and millions of dollars in damage had been done.

    One immediate and predictable response on Capitol Hill was a call for stiffer criminal penalties for such malice.

    But there is no lack of stiff criminal penalties for such computer crimes -- none, anyway, in the United States. For example, the author of last year's "Melissa" virus, which used the same ubiquitous e-mail program to wreak its havoc, faces up to 10 years in prison.

    His misfortune was to be an American who generated his virus from a computer in America. In many countries -- and the Philippines is one -- malicious computer hacking and virus generating are not yet recognized as crimes. That's the real problem.

    That does not necessarily mean the breeder or breeders of the Love Bug are home free (though as of Tuesday morning one suspect had already been released for lack of evidence). They still could be convicted under Philippine laws against theft or fraud, provided that was their intent in setting loose the virus.

    But theft or fraud is not the only motive that drives computer crimes. Even in cases where theft or fraud is a motive, having to prove such intent adds to the prosecution's burden. Extradition to a country like the United States with laws against computer crime itself is problematic, because extradition is generally not granted for activities not considered crimes in the home country.

    At least most nations (including the Philippines) seem to think computer-virus breeding ought to be against the law, even if not all countries have gotten around to making it so. Trickier, if less urgent, is trying to use domestic laws like 6th District Congressman Bob Goodlatte's Internet Gambling Prohibition Act to curtail the activities of offshore Web sites whose business is not universally regarded as improper, including in the Web sites' home jurisdictions.

    With computer and telecommunications technology, globalization has become an inescapable reality. So, alas, has globalized crime. It's time the nations of the world got their anti-global-crime act together.

Last updated 2000/05/10
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