Britain agrees to extradite Asperger’s hacker to US

From Volume 5 Number 1 (print and PDF editions)

LONDON, UK: Britain’s Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, has said he would be breaking the law if he blocked the British computer hacker Gary McKinnon’s extradition to the United States.
    Glasgow-born McKinnon, who has Asperger’s syndrome and now lives in north London, lost a court bid on July 31 to avoid being extradited to the US. McKinnon’s defence team will now be appealing to Britain’s new Supreme Court - the court of last resort which is due to come into operation on October 1, 2009 - in a final effort to prevent MicKinnon’s extradition.
    The US wants to try the 43-year-old for what it calls the biggest military computer hack ever in 2001 and 2002. McKinnon maintains he was seeking UFO evidence.
    Writing in the British weekly, The Sunday Times, Johnson said: “It would be unlawful for the Home Secretary to intervene.”
Johnson's predecessor, Jacqui Smith, formally gave the go-ahead for McKinnon’s extradition in October 2008.
    Johnson said that, after a court had ruled that there was enough evidence, a Home Secretary could prevent an extradition only in very specific circumstances, none of which applied in McKinnon’s case.
    In his article, the Home Secretary acknowledged that it was “understandable” that many would be sympathetic to “someone who appears to be a misguided, vulnerable young man.” But Johnson added that “the crimes he is accused of are far from trivial” and said McKinnon “should be tried fairly for them in a court of law and in the country where the impact of those crimes were felt.”
    The Home Secretary also denied that extradition law was wrong, arguing that it was appropriate for “an age where crime is increasingly indifferent to national borders.”
    McKinnon could face 60 years or more in prison if convicted in the US.  He admits hacking by accessing 97 government computers belonging to organisations such as the US Navy and NASA, but denies it was malicious. He also denies the allegation that he caused damage costing $800,000 (£487,000).
    To extradite an American from the US, British must prove “probable cause.” Since 2004, 46 people have been sent from the UK to the for trial, and 27 from the US to Britain.
    McKinnon has always insisted he was looking for classified documents on unidentified flying objects, which he believed the US authorities had suppressed.
    He has challenged refusals by the Home Secretary and the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to try him in the UK. But the DPP refused to order a UK trial, saying the bulk of the evidence was located in the US and McKinnon’s actions were directed against the US military infrastructure.  Two judges rejected his court bid to avoid extradition, ruling that it was “a lawful and proportionate response” to his offence, even though they conceded he might find extradition and prison in the US “very difficult indeed.”
    McKinnon has already appealed unsuccessfully to the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights. But the case has led to a political row in Britain, with the opposition Tory leader, David Cameron, saying it raised “serious questions” about the extradition pact between the US and UK.
    The Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne, has argued that the American government would not “hang one of their citizens out to dry in the same way.”
    A letter has been sent to President Barack Obama signed by 40 British MPs asking him to step in and “bring this shameful episode to an end.” McKinnon’s mother, Janis Sharp, has also called on President Obama to intervene.

Read more about what Professor Simon Baron-Cohen - who confirmed Gary McKinnon's diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome in September 2008 - told Looking Up in the print edition of Volume 5 Number 1 of the newsletter.

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