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Legislation on a fast track in the Senate would make minor computer hacking
a federal felony, investigated by the FBI and the Secret Service. The bill
is S. 2448, the "Internet Integrity and Critical Infrastructure Protection
Act." It was introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), chairman of the Senate
Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).

Procedural posture: The Senate Judiciary Committee had actually scheduled
the bill for a vote on May 18. That was put off one week, to Thursday,
May 25. The Committee is also considering holding a hearing on May 24 or
25, with a witness list at present heavily weighted with current and former
law enforcement officials.

S. 2448 was introduced before the recent "love bug" virus hit computers
worldwide, and has no relevance to that or other recent viruses and attacks,
all of which, including the Melissa virus and the denial of service attacks
in February, were already federal felonies, even when created and launched
from overseas.

The main effect of S. 2448's criminal provisions would be to extend federal
jurisdiction over minor computer abuses not previously thought serious
enough to merit federal resources. Currently, federal jurisdiction exists
for some computer crimes only if they result in at least ,000 of aggregate
damage or cause especially significant damage, such as any impairment of
medical records, or pose a threat to public safety. Any virus affecting more
than a few computers easily meets the ,000 threshold. S. 2448 would
eliminate the ,000 threshold.

Specifically, the bill would make it a felony to send any transmission
intending to cause damage or to intentionally access a computer and
recklessly cause damage, punishable for up to 3 years in prison, even if
the damage caused is negligible. In addition, the bill would make it a
misdemeanor to intentionally access any computer and cause damage, even
unintentional damage, again regardless of the extent of such damage. Also,
for certain hacking offenses, the maximum punishment would be doubled
from 5 years to 10 for first offenses.

Among the conduct that would become a federal crime under S. 2448:

*     a private sector employee snoops without authorization on a
      co-worker's computer and accidentally deletes a file or a message;

*     a teenage hacker modifies a friend's vanity Web page as a joke.

S. 2448 is available at

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