NASA hacker in court

An extradition hearing on Wednesday marked the official start of Gary McKinnon's fight to stay in the country

The British man who hacked into a series of computers belonging to the US government has begun his campaign against extradition.

Gary McKinnon, 39, appeared at Bow Street Magistrate's Court today for an extradition hearing on charges he gained unauthorised access to 97 US government computers, including machines belonging to NASA and the US Department of Defense.

The US government claims McKinnon accessed passwords and deleted critical files from the Earle US naval weapons station, causing the 300 computers in its network to shut down. In the process, he gained password information that could be useful to an enemy and caused the US Army's Washington military district to shut down its systems for around a day, the government says.

Lawyers for the US government said McKinnon's attacks cost the government around $700,000 (£400,000). The Earle hack, which the US said left the entire network vulnerable to outside access, cost $290,431.

McKinnon, however, said he only deleted files once accidentally and gained unauthorised access to military systems just to look for evidence of UFO conspiracies.

McKinnon's lawyers said he will be fighting the extradition on human rights grounds. If convicted, the north Londoner could face 70 years in jail.

The hearing has been adjourned until 18 October to give McKinnon's defence team more time to prepare their case.

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