British hacker keeps fighting extradition to U.S.

McKinnon's attorney today says extradition could cause psychotic breakdown, suicide

A British hacker who has been fighting extradition to the United States for the past seven years today made an eleventh-hour appeal to a British court to be tried in the U.K. instead of in a U.S. federal court.

Gary McKinnon, 43, has admitted that in 2001 he broke into U.S. Department of Defense, NASA and U.S. Army computer systems. However, McKinnon has been using a series of legal maneuvers and appeals to fight extradition to the U.S. since he was indicted in November 2002 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on charges related to the computer hacks.

Earlier this year, McKinnon's efforts took yet another blow when the Crown Prosecution Service, a U.K. government arm that handles public prosecutions, announced that it will not prosecute McKinnon for hacking into the U.S. sites, freeing him to be tried in the U.S.

Several U.K. based publications reported that McKinnon's attorney today asked judges at the British High Court to overturn the Crown Prosecution Service's decision. According to the U.K.'s Daily Mail, McKinnon's attorney, Edward Fitzgerald, argued that the court had failed to take into account human rights issues associated with the case.

Fitzgerald also said an extradition, trial and sentence would weigh too heavily on McKinnon, who reportedly has Asperger's Syndrome, an autism-related neurobiological disorder. He added that the stress of it could make McKinnon psychotic or suicidal, according to a report from BBC.com.

A representative of the Crown Prosecution Service, however, today reiterated their earlier reasoning, saying that the U.K. simply doesn't have enough evidence to reflect the seriousness of the charges being leveled by U.S. federal prosecutors, leaving them unable to hand down a sentence that matches the seriousness of the charges, the BBC added.

The BBC noted that the court is expected to release its decision later this month.

McKinnon, who was an unemployed system administrator in the U.K. at the time of the 2001 hacks, has admitted to hacking the computers and described how he did it in presentations at computer security conferences in London. He also has said he wasn't trying to damage the systems but was looking to find evidence of UFOs on U.S. military computers.

McKinnon had long been looking to be prosecuted in the U.K., even though his extradition order has been approved by the U.K. government.

The U.S. government alleges that McKinnon caused $US900,000 in damages to computers in 14 states, and that he caused the shutdown of critical military networks shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He faces a sentence of 60 years or more in the U.S.

The case took on a new level of cause celebre earlier this year, when London Mayor Boris Johnson wrote a column in London's Telegraph newspaper that called on President Barack Obama to call off U.S. efforts to extradite and prosecute McKinnon. Johnson called the U.S. efforts to prosecute McKinnon a "legal nightmare" and described the move as "American bullying."

Since then, other celebrities have joined McKinnon's cause.

In April, McKinnon's mother, Janis Sharp, announced that David Gilmour, singer and guitarist for the iconic English rock bank Pink Floyd, had recorded a song for an upcoming CD that's being put together to support McKinnon.

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld
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