Pennsylvania Makes Computer Viruses Criminal

WASHINGTON (05/31/2000) - People who intentionally spread a computer virus face a seven-year prison sentence and a US$15,000 fine in Pennsylvania after Governor Tom Ridge signed a new bill into law May 26. The bill also requires that restitution be paid for any damages caused.

The bill, which passed the House and Senate unanimously, makes computer hacking - including denial of service attacks - and the willful spread of a computer virus a crime. It also defines a computer virus for the first time.

Existing law regarding the unlawful use of a computer does not include the introduction of a computer virus as an offense, only the unlawful affects of its introduction.

The bill was written last year when the Melissa virus hit, but was not created in response to it, said Carmine Camillo, legislative advisor for Sen. Jane Earll, the sponsor of the bill. The bill was introduced in the fall.

Accessing and damaging a computer or system is a felony of the third degree, facing a seven-year sentence and a $15,000 fine. Interfering with a computer, system, or network or giving out a password or other confidential information about a system is a misdemeanor of the first degree, with a maximum penalty of five years and $10,000 fine.

When convicted, the defendant must repay the victim for the cost of repairing or replacing the system infected, lost profit for the period that the system was not usable, and to replace or restore lost or damaged data. Camillo said the level of restitution would be left to the judge.

The bill takes effect at the end of July.

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