Extradition review could hurt UK hacker's case

A review has concluded that the extradition treaty between the U.S. and U.K. is not more favorable to U.S. defendants

A U.K. hacker fighting extradition to the U.S. may have lost one avenue for argument after an independent review panel concluded the U.K.-U.S. extradition treaty is not slanted against U.K. defendants.

The 488-page review, released on Tuesday, found that the U.K. and U.S. legal systems are similar, with no difference in justifying an arrest, known in the U.S. as "probable cause" and in the U.K. as "reasonable suspicion."

"In the case of extradition requests submitted by the United States to the United Kingdom, the information within the request will satisfy both the probable cause and the reasonable suspicion tests," the panel found.

The review might dampen long-running arguments that the treaty, which went into effect in 2004, is unfair to British subjects. The argument gained more traction with the case of Gary McKinnon, a Londoner who has been charged in the U.S. with computer crimes but has been fighting an extradition order approved by the British government in 2006.

McKinnon was indicted by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in 2002 for hacking into 97 military and NASA computers between February 2001 and March 2002.

The hacking, which McKinnon has publicly admitted to, has been characterized as mischievous, but the U.S. government contends he shut down critical military networks following the 2001 terrorist attacks. McKinnon has said he was merely searching for proof of the existence UFOs and didn't cause harm. He remains free on bail but cannot use the Internet.

In May 2010 following the U.K. general elections, Home Secretary Theresa May adjourned a judicial review of McKinnon's case that was due to take place in the High Court in order to review his case.

That review continues, with the Home Office considering whether to block McKinnon's extradition because he has Asperger's syndrome, a neurological disorder related to autism characterized by deficiencies in social interaction.

McKinnon has long said he would prefer to be prosecuted in the U.K., but the Crown Prosecution Service has turned down the case because the U.S. has jurisdiction and most of the witnesses are in the U.S.

McKinnon's case has gone to the highest levels of the U.K. and U.S. governments. During a visit to the U.K. in May, U.S. President Barack Obama said the case is in the hands of the British legal system. In July 2010, Obama said he would not intervene in the case, as by tradition U.S. presidents do not get involved in extradition issues.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com

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