Pentagon hacker's UK appeal moves forward

Law Lords approve Gary McKinnon's appeal to the House of Lords in '08

A trio of British judges has agreed that hacker Gary McKinnon can appeal his extradition order to the U.S. to the House of Lords.

McKinnon, 41, was charged in 2002 with multiple counts of breaking into U.S. military and government computer networks. However, he has remained free in Britain while he fights extradition to the U.S., where he would be tried in federal court. If convicted, McKinnon could face as many as 70 years in prison for hacking more than 100 networks, including ones belonging to NASA, the Pentagon, the U.S. Army and several private companies. In an interview with Reuters last year, McKinnon claimed he had broken into the networks during 2000 and 2001 in search of information about aliens and UFOs.

A three-judge panel of Law Lords ruled that McKinnon's appeal would be heard by Britain's highest court, the House of Lords. McKinnon's lawyers have argued against extradition, claiming that he should be tried in the U.K., where the crimes occurred, and because U.S. law prosecutors went after McKinnon "for the purpose of prosecuting him on account of his nationality or political opinions." At one point, McKinnon's solicitors of Kaim Todner said they feared their client might be sent to Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. military prison and interrogation center at the Cuban naval base, if he was returned to the U.S.

McKinnon's case will be heard by the House of Lords sometime after the first of the year.

According to the charges brought against him in 2002, McKinnon's hacks caused more than US$900,000 in damage to various computer networks; in the case of one military network, administrators had to spend three days cleaning up after the breach.

McKinnon exploited unpatched vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows to break into the servers, authorities said at the time.

McKinnon's barrister, Ben Cooper of Charter Chambers, was not available for comment.

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