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Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Make Spreading Computer Viruses a Crime

May 20, 1989

BOSTON (AP) _ Alarmed by reports about the vulnerability of computer systems to hackers, a Massachusetts state senator has filed a bill that would make it a crime to enter a computer without authorization.

Sen. William Keating, the bill’s sponsor, hopes to inoculate Massachusetts hospitals, universities and businesses against so-called computer viruses with legislation that would create a new category of crime analagous to breaking into a building.

″It’s an attempt to put on the statutes a law that would penalize people for destruction or deliberate modification or interference with computer properties,″ Keating said Friday. ″It clarifies the criminal nature of the wrongdoing and, I think, in that sense serves as a deterrent and makes clear that this kind of behavior is criminal activity.″

The idea for the bill came from a constituent, Elissa Royal, who has a background in hospital administration and became concerned about the security of patient files.

″I heard about (computer) viruses on the news,″ she said. ″My first thought was the clinical pathology program. Our doctors would look at it and make all these decisions without looking at the hard copy.

″I thought, what if some malevolent, bright little hacker got into the system and changed the information? How many people would be injured or die?″

Last November, a Cornell graduate student, Robert T. Morris Jr., clogged thousands of computers around the country by unleashing a set of instructions into Internet, a widely used computer network.

Keating and experts in the field believe that many cases of computer viruses go unreported. Often victims file no complaints because they do not want to attract publicity, or because they believe prosecutors do not have the laws they need to press charges.

Under Keating’s bill, penalties would increase depending on whether the attacker merely entered a computer, interfered with its operations or destroyed data. In the most serious case, any person found guilty of knowingly releasing a computer virus would be subject to a maximum of 10 years in prison or $25,000 fine.

The bill is pending in committee, as staff members are refining its language to carefully define the term ″virus.″

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