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Monday, April 22, 2002

Hacking is legal in Argentina

COMPUTER hackers may be the scourge of the digital age, hunted down by police across borders, but in Argentina they have found an unlikely ally - the very justice system they scorned.

Warning of a "dangerous legal void" making digital crimes hard to prosecute, a judge has ruled that hacking is legal by default in Argentina. The decision came in the case of cyber pirates who defaced the Supreme Court's Web page.

Arguing that the law only covered crimes on "people, things and animals" and not digital attacks, a federal court declared several Argentines known as "X-Team" innocent of charges they broke into the high court's Web page to accuse judges of covering up a human rights case.

"The judge ruled that hacking didn't harm things, people or animals and thus was not covered in the law," Antonio Mille, a lawyer for Microsoft in Argentina, said last week.


The ruling, a copy of which was given to Reuters, was first published April 11. The sentence was not appealed, lawyers said.

"This (ruling) allows us to warn that there is a serious legal void that these days does not allow us to repress these (crimes)," the judge said in the ruling.

In Argentine courts rulings do not set legal precedents and another judge could rule differently on the legality of hackers in a new case.

The "X-Team" was accused of illegally entering the Supreme Court Web page in 1998 and replacing it with photos of murdered magazine journalist Jose Luis Cabezas as well as statements blaming the judges for covering up his death.

Cabezas was found dead and his body charred into blackened bones during a 1997 probe into Alfredo Yabran, a business tycoon with links to then-President Carlos Menem. Yabran later committed suicide after a judge ordered his arrest.

The dead journalist's case has been a cause celebre among groups protesting what they said was a covering up of human rights abuses by top government officials.

Polls show that courts are some of the most unpopular institutions in Argentina and Supreme Court judges have become a focus of public anger and a rallying cry for street protests against alleged corruption in the state.