Nasa hacker appeal set for New Year

High Court has set a date for the appeal of Gary McKinnon, the Briton threatened with extradition to the US to face charges of hacking into US military systems

After months of waiting, Gary McKinnon, the so-called "Nasa hacker", has learned that his latest attempt to avoid extradition to America will be heard in the High Court on 13 February, 2007.

McKinnon has been waiting for this date to be confirmed since last July when he lost his first appeal against extradition. The appeal court in that case judged that extradition to the US was justified, after which McKinnon was granted leave to appeal to a higher court.

If his second appeal on 13 February is not successful, McKinnon's only remaining avenue is to appeal to the House of Lords, but he is not hopeful. "Look what happened to the NatWest Three," he told ZDNet UK on Monday. "They had a lot of people behind them but they were still not given leave to appeal to the House of Lords."

McKinnon believes that he has little chance of being successful at his hearing in the New Year. "I don't have much faith in this government to act independently [of the US]," he said.

The NatWest Three, also known as the Enron Three, were the first test case of the UK's new Extradition Act and were extradited to the US on 13 July. Theirs was the first case held under the act.

McKinnon has been fighting extradition since July last year. Unlike other famous British hackers, McKinnon has never been convicted of an offence in the UK. He has admitted accessing US systems, but maintains that he never damaged any of the systems he entered. When first discovered, the UK authorities did not think his actions were serious enough to be worth prosecuting.

The US Government has always maintained that McKinnon's exploits caused millions of dollars worth of damage to a wide range of crucial defence systems.

The UK Extradition Act 2003 was rushed into law after the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001, and does not include a requirement for an extradition request from the US to contain prima facie evidence of the charges. The act has not been ratified by the US Government, so while McKinnon is being extradited to the US under its terms, the UK Government cannot extradite a US citizen to the UK.

Silicon.com's Natasha Lomas contributed to this report.

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