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Pentagon hacker demands Government payback

Business & GovernmentNews
, 14 May 2010News

Pentagon hacker, Gary McKinnon has called on the newly-elected British government to put its money where its mouth is and tear up his extradition order.

US prosecutors have been trying to get McKinnon before a New Jersey court for seven years after they caught him hacking into US military and NASA computers for evidence of UFOs.

David Cameron, the newly elected Prime Minister, and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, had both voiced their support for McKinnon's campaign against extradition. Other ministers in the coalition government had branded the extradition unjust. Clegg had even joined McKinnon's mother, Janis Sharp on a protest march.

McKinnon's solicitor, Karen Todner, wrote to the Home Secretary yesterday, asking whether "the new Liberal Conservative government will act upon their previous public statements that it would be unjust to extradite Mr McKinnon".

"We sent her copies of all the Liberal and Conservative press releases over the last seven years, reminding them of what they said," McKinnon's solicitor, Karen Todner, told THINQ.

The Home Office said the new Theresa May, the new Home Secretary, had received the letter and would consider it.

Promises, promises
Many politicians in the new government rallied behind McKinnon, whose hobby hacking from his girlfriend's flat in Wood Green, North London, attracted the attention of US military cyber intelligence agents in 2002. McKinnon was diagnosed with autism while fighting the extradition order in court.

The last British Government had supported the US court order, controversially placing its treaty obligations with the US before its duty to protect a vulnerable man from what McKinnon's lawyers said was disproportionate injustice.

The US extradition relied on its insistence that McKinnon had intentionally caused $700,000 of damage to their computers. McKinnon denied causing the damage. Any prosecution would have had to demonstrate how much of the bill for damages was the cost of scanning and securing systems that hacking had revealed to be vulnerable, and to what extent McKinnon was liable for the cost merely because he was the one who exposed the security flaws.

Politicians who have expressed their support for McKinnon have been careful not to promise they will stop his extradition. They have simply said it would be unjust. They have promised to review the extradition act. They have not promised to try McKinnon in the UK.

Dominic Grieve, who was this week appointed Attorney General, had called before the election for a change in the law, to prevent someone like McKinnon getting extradited by the authority of a treaty that had intended to deal with terrorists. But he sympathised with ministers who said they could not interrupt a legal process that already had McKinnon in its grip.

Chris Huhne, who was this week appointed minister for energy, had called the case against McKinnon a "fiasco". He called for the hacker to be tried for his hacking crimes in the UK, where he was when he committed them.

Rough justice
McKinnon's lawyers argued before the high court last year that since his autistic condition made him vulnerable, he should not be flown to face prosecutors thousands of miles away from home and family. If he were convicted and given a prison sentence for hacking, he should serve it in the UK, they said.

The High Court denied McKinnon's plea because human rights law was not strong enough to accommodate a request of such subtlety. It could only legally stop McKinnon's extradition if he was being handed over to a state that intended to do him harm.

The US prison system was deemed by the court to be somewhere where an autistic man might be sent without infringing his human rights, even though medical experts said it would be a disproportionately terrifying ordeal for an autistic man.

The Crown Prosecution Service could have subverted the US extradition by bringing a trial against McKinnon in the UK but decided against it on the basis of cost.

McKinnon was due to return to the Royal Courts of Justice in ten days to plead for the extradition to be stopped. He was to argue that his mental health had deteriorated to such a degree over the course of his seven year battle against the US order that he should be tried in the UK.

His solicitor asked the Home Secretary to agree to postpone the court hearings while she reconsidered his case in light of the vague promises ministers made on his behalf when they were courting public approval before being elected to government. McKinnon awaits her answer.

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