Hacker gets another chance to foil US prosecutors

Autistic hacker Gary McKinnon will get another chance to beat his US extradition order next week when the UK Parliament's Home Affairs Select Committee considers his plight again.

The Committee will consider the case against the 2003 Extradition Act under which the US placed an order for McKinnon's arrest after he was caught hacking into military computers in 2001.

The Government began a review of UK extradition law in September after widespread complaints that people like McKinnon were being removed from their home country to face foreign prosecutors on the basis of flimsy evidence.

The committee will also consider the plight of those whose extraditions are still being processed despite the government's review.

The Home Office said in September that it would not freeze extraditions while it considered whether the process was unjust. It refused to freeze McKinnon's extradition despite his case having significant influence over its decision to review the Extradition Act.

This created the possibility that people would be extradited on conditions subsequently found unsound by the government's review.

McKinnon's extradition is, however, on hold while Teresa May, Home Secretary, considers the possibility that the poor state of his mental health may be cause to prevent his removal. The Home Secretary has taken an unprecedentedly long time over the matter since she agreed to consider it in May.

McKinnon's extradition has also been undermined by accusations that the US charges against the hacker were trumped up, by the possibility that he might be tried in the UK for a crime he committed using a computer in his girlfriend's flat in North London in 2001, and by his Asperger's Syndrome, an autistic condition characterised by social vulnerability that has created a strong medical and moral case for a UK trial.

The UK's High Court has also heard how the hacker's crimes were the trifling probes of a hobby hacker obsessed with the romantic notion that he might find evidence of UFOs on US military computers. He was not the threat to national security the US portrayed him as, the court heard.

The Extradition Act had put Alan Johnson, the last Home Secretary, in the awkward position of representing US prosecutors in Parliament, where he argued their case against McKinnon, and pressed for his removal, even though the US charges had not been tested in a court of law.

When the Committee called on Johnson to justify McKinnon's extradition on 10 November last year, the then Home Secretary went to great lengths to argue the US prosecution case against the hacker. The hacker's mother, meanwhile, reported in heart-breaking detail how the hacker's health had deteriorated.

Teresa May, the present Home Secretary, will not be called to appear on Tuesday, when the Committee will also consider the plight of people removed from Britain under the strength of flimsy evidence and a European Investigation Order, as well as those who like McKinnon face removal of the strength of flimsy evidence and an Extradition order.

The Committee will, however, quiz the Home Secretary about extradition when it calls her to appear on 14 December.

Janis Sharpe, McKinnon's mother, has been called to appear before the Committee on Tuesday 30 November. David Blunkett, who signed the Extradition Act as Home Secretary in 2003, has also been called. Blunkett has since claimed he regrets signing the Act because it gave the US too much power to remove British citizens.