NASA hacker faces extradition within three weeks, says lawyer

NASA hacker Gary McKinnon has lost his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights and faces extradition to face trial in the US.

McKinnon's lawyer, Karen Todner, has told the BBC that she will ask the Home Secretary to intervene in the case. The Home Office has previously approved his extradition and has today said that it has no further statutory role in the case.

McKinnon has admitted hacking into computers belonging to NASA and the US military in 2001 and 2002 though he has disputed US prosecutors' claims that he caused $700,000-worth of damage.

He has fought a long legal battle to face trial in the UK because that is where he was when the alleged crimes were committed and not in the US. US prosecutors previously threatened Mckinnon with up to 70 years in jail and said he could be tried under anti-terrorism laws.

His case has been ruled on by the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. After five Law Lords unanimously rejected his claim that US plea bargaining undermined his human rights last month, McKinnon asked the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to intervene.

Yesterday it refused to block his extradition.

"The appeal is lost," Karen Todner of Kaim Todner solicitors told news agency Reuters. "He is completely distraught, all of them are, his family, his girlfriend." She said he would probably be extradited within three weeks.

Mckinnon used a dial-up internet account to break into US military networks. He said that he used a very basic hacking tool that scanned the network for blank passwords to gain entry into the systems.

"When you look at the fact that my method for gaining entry was scanning for blank passwords, technically you could say that there was no security to begin with," he told OUT-LAW Radioin 2006.

He says that he was told by UK authorities that he faced nothing more serious than community service, but that once US prosecutors were involved the seriousness of potential charges escalated.

"For it to be extraditable under their computer laws in America you have to have caused $5,000 worth of damage and lo and behold they say that every computer I was on I caused exactly $5,000 worth of damage so it is patently a falsely-structured argument," McKinnon told OUT-LAW.

On appeal McKinnon had argued that US authorities' plea bargaining had undermined his human rights because the gulf between what he was offered if he did not oppose extradition and what he was threatened with if he did was so large.

The Law Lords, though, said that the gulf between those would have to be larger for the appeal to succeed, and that while it would be a problem if judges engaged in that kind of plea bargaining, it was less of a problem if engaged in by prosecutors.