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Prosecutors drop charges against ‘love bug’ suspect

Lack of applicable laws, insufficient evidence are cited

SHARE Prosecutors drop charges against ‘love bug’ suspect

MANILA, Philippines — Prosecutors on Monday dismissed all charges filed against a former computer college student accused of having released the "ILOVEYOU" computer virus that crippled e-mail systems worldwide.

The Department of Justice said the charges filed by investigators either did not apply to computer hacking, or there was insufficient evidence to back them up.

Onel de Guzman, a former student at the Philippines' AMA Computer College, has acknowledged that he may have released the virus by accident but refused to say whether he was the author of it.

The virus, unleashed May 4, rapidly replicated itself via e-mail, overloading corporate e-mail systems in many countries and causing damage estimated at up to $10 billion.

Until President Joseph Estrada signed a new law in June covering electronic commerce and computer hacking, the Philippines had no laws specifically against computer crimes.

The new legislation, however, cannot be applied retroactively to the "Love Bug" creator, and investigators instead charged de Guzman with traditional crimes such as theft and violation of a law that normally covers credit card fraud.

The Department of Justice ruled that the credit card law does not apply to computer hacking and that investigators did not present adequate evidence to support the theft charge.

The National Bureau of Investigation had waited more than a month to file the charges against de Guzman while it attempted to find applicable laws.

"Those are the only laws that our legal department has identified as being applicable," Elfren Meneses, head of the NBI's anti-fraud and computer crimes division, said Monday. "That's the best we have."

De Guzman and his lawyer were not available for comment.

De Guzman failed to graduate earlier this year after AMA professors rejected his thesis proposal for a program that steals Internet passwords, a feature of the Love Bug virus.

De Guzman became a suspect after AMA professors noticed similarities between his thesis proposal and the virus, and Internet service providers traced the virus to a telephone line in his apartment.

NBI agents seized 17 computer diskettes, telephones and computer accessories in a raid May 8 on the apartment but found no computer or modem.

During the raid, investigators arrested another resident of the apartment, Reonel Ramones, a boyfriend of de Guzman's sister, but released him a day later because of insufficient evidence.