DATE=8/23/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=PHILIPPINES / CYBER LAW NUMBER=5-46903 BYLINE=GRACE CUTLER DATELINE=HONG KONG CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: This week the so-called "Love Bug" computer hacker - believed responsible for disabling millions of the world's computers last May - walked free in the Philippines. Government prosecutors said they couldn't prosecute due to a lack of electronic commerce legislation. The incident has raised questions about the inadequacy of cyber laws in developing countries. Grace Cutler has more from Hong Kong. TEXT: There may have been no electronic commerce laws on the books when Onel de Guzman released the "I Love You" virus, but legislation was in the pipeline. The E-commerce Act was introduced in the Philippines Congress four years ago. But it was not until a month after the message-reproducing virus was injected into global computer networks in May, that lawmakers passed the bill. Experts say the measure languished so long in part because legislators did not understand what it meant. Philippine lawyer Joseph Alehendro from Romulo Law firm in Hong Kong is says the new legislation is already outdated and not able to protect against many of today's cyber crimes. /// ALEHENDRO ACT /// It's nothing great. As I understand it, it is just a prototype of an e-commerce regulation. But it's not up to date as the progress of technology. /// END ACT /// The virus is believed to have cost nearly 10 billion dollars in damage when companies and governments around the world were unable to function due to frozen computer networks. The computer-reliant, more developed countries were hardest hit. And even though the Philippines had the suspect and the evidence, the new law they needed to prosecute could not be applied retroactively to crimes. The Philippines is not alone when it comes to inadequate legal armor. In 1997, the United Nations adopted a universal e-commerce law to help developing countries deal with computer viruses such as the "Love Bug." The Philippines, as well as many other countries, has yet to ratify the bill. Despite the risks, many electronic commerce companies, looking to set up shop, are attracted to the Philippines' low rental costs and highly educated work force. Political scientist Alex Magno from the University of the Philippines in Manila, says although the country is rich in talent, an idle pool of computer students could create problems. /// MAGNO ACT /// We have a very, very large army of software specialists. Not all of them will be immediately employed. A lot of them will find entertainment in hacking. /// END ACT /// But Mr. Magno says the new e-commerce bill, while not perfect, will dissuade hackers from committing crimes at least in the short term. He says the global infamy of the "Love Bug" is likely to prompt the government to adopt a get tough attitude on high-tech offenders. But he also points out that these and other cyber crimes have also created a moral dilemma in the Philippines. The alleged "I Love You" bandit Onel de Guzman has already had several job offers, including at least one at a Silicon Valley company in the United States. Hackers may try to follow suit in order to get high paying jobs. Legal experts say unlike robbery or murder, computer attack is not universally recognized as a crime. Countries that do not have legislation could become a haven for would-be cyber-criminals. (signed) NEB/HK/GC/JO 24-Aug-2000 04:07 AM LOC (24-Aug-2000 0807 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .