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Few computer users knew what to do when a computer virus appeared on their screens with the irresistible come-on “ILOVEYOU.” Lawyers with an interest in the case had some initial ignorance problems too. The so-called Love Bug virus showed that criminal, tort and insurance law are one step behind the online computer vandals. But lawyers and experts hope that the recent attack, taken together with others in the past year, will spur the development of laws to punish virus makers and to help compensate victims. While declining to say whether the U.S Department of Justice would want to prosecute any Love Bug suspects, Attorney General Janet Reno said at a May 8 press conference that she hoped more nations would pass cybercrime laws so that “we have the same sheet of music… to play from.” One problem: The lack of a Filipino law directly addressing cybercrime, legal experts said, may stand in the way of any extradition. Warrants used by the Filipino National Bureau of Investigation were issued under the nation’s Access Device Act, which regulates only the use of access codes and passwords. Other less-suitable laws that Filipino prosecutors may be forced to use include statutes barring credit card fraud or tampering with computers used in elections. The lack of a Filipino law resembling U.S. cybercrime statutes means that there is no “dual criminality,” said Justice Department spokesman John Russell. Without parallel laws in both nations addressing the same crime, extradition is barred, he said. “We can’t bring anyone here unless they volunteer to come here, and that’s not very likely to happen,” Russell said. However, he said that if the Filipinos charged a suspect with simple wire fraud, dual criminality with similar U.S. laws would exist. Similarly, it’s hard to imagine that the creator of the Love Bug will be a likely target of civil lawsuits. “If you find out that Steve Forbes has been starting these things, I’ve got a hell of a class action for you,” joked Howard L. Nations, a plaintiffs’ lawyer in Houston. Failing that, the Love Bug creator is unlikely to provide an attractive target for suits. Still, that doesn’t mean that potential plaintiffs won’t try to find someone to hold accountable. First on the list are companies that install commercial computer systems and protect them against viruses. Although it may be that they are not to blame for failing to anticipate a particular virus, computer security companies may be sued if they didn’t react to it quickly enough, said Nations. Computer users who negligently passed the virus on to others could also be targets, he said. BUG INSURANCE Insurers have reacted to the Love Bug and other recent virus attacks by offering policies to cover losses due to computer viruses. Still, some lawyers said businesses may claim — and may eventually sue — for coverage under general commercial property policies that were drawn up before Internet attacks were a problem. And if companies are sued for passing on or failing to protect against the virus, they will look to their liability insurers to defend them, said Adam H. Fleischer, a lawyer at Chicago’s Bates & Carey and an expert on emerging Internet torts.

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