NASA hacker Gary McKinnon will not face prosecution in the UK

NASA hacker Gary McKinnon will not face prosecution in the UK

Summary: The self-confessed hacker will not now face legal action in the UK following a decision by the Crown Prosecution Service, but the US extradition warrant remains open.


NASA hacker Gary McKinnon will face no legal action in the UK.

Gary McKinnon. Image: Tom Espiner

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has decided the appropriate jurisdiction for the McKinnon case to be heard is the US, after discussing the case with US Department of Justice and the police.

According to Karen Todner, McKinnon's solicitor, the decision on Friday is an "interesting" one given that he was first arrested and questioned by UK police.

"Mr McKinnon has always indicated that he would be willing to plead guilty to an offence under the Misuse of Computers Act but clearly cannot do so if he is not going to be prosecuted," she said in a statement.

US authorities started their bid to extradite McKinnon in 2005, accusing him of causing hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage by hacking into NASA and military systems in 2002. McKinnon admitted to the intrusion, but claimed he was looking for evidence of UFO activity.

US requests for his extradition were formally turned down by the Home Secretary Theresa May in October on human rights grounds, after medical reports said McKinnon, who has Asperger's, would be a suicide risk if extradited.

The CPS remains convinced that the US is the appropriate place for any trial.

"None of the reasons for the original decision in 2002 that the appropriate place for Mr McKinnon to be tried was the United States have altered. So far as the evidence is concerned, the position in 2012 is the same as it was in 2002. Most of the witnesses are in the US, as is nearly all the physical evidence and the bulk of the unused material, some of which is sensitive," Keir Starmer QC, director of public prosecutions, and Mark Rowley, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, said in a joint statement.

"The potential difficulties in bringing a case in England and Wales now should not be underestimated" — CPS statement

"The potential difficulties in bringing a case in England and Wales now should not be underestimated, not least the passage of time, the logistics of transferring sensitive evidence prepared for a court in the US to London for trial, the participation of US Government witnesses in the trial and the need to fully comply with the duties of disclosure imposed on the CPS. The prospects of a conviction against Mr McKinnon, which reflects the full extent of his alleged criminality, are not high," they added.

While the CPS has today closed the book on the prospect of legal action against McKinnon on home soil, the US authorities have yet to come to a similar decision.

"Mr McKinnon's legal team remains aware that his extradition warrant is still outstanding and will seek to explore other ways in which Mr McKinnon can receive complete closure on this long saga," Todner said.

Topics: Security, Legal, Nasa / Space, United Kingdom

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  • Looks like that pretty muich closes the books

    It would behoove Mr. McKinnon to not leave the country and to severely restrain his hacking activities, but if the current government isn't going to prosecute or extradite him, then I can't imagine that a future one will either.
    John L. Ries
  • prosecute or reward?

    As I see it, officials responsible for the blunders to have allowed Gary hack those infamous Windows machines with weak passwords and other incompetent things to happen should have been a reason to award/hire him instead of prosecuting him. Say, Google pays for discovering vulnerabilities in Chrome.

    Unheard of? Any firing in Pentagon? Any tribunals? The officials chose to cover up themselves and quite of few incompetent SOB's that our taxes so lavishly sustain. Next time this might be no game...

    At least Brits.. I mean Scots did the right thing.
    • Nobody thanks the burglar...

      ...for breaking into his house. I'd much rather live in a place where locks are unnecessary than one where only a fool doesn't lock his doors and bar his windows and so would you, I would guess. Likewise crackers, script kiddies, and spammers end up diverting computing resources from productive work to security, which is not helpful.
      John L. Ries
      • Okay

        continuing your example here. Someone has a big house and a lot of people working for him. These include some people responsible for locks, sec. cameras and those who decide what equipment to buy, who to hire and how to teach the personnel. A first burglar uses pretty unsophisticated tools to break in, looks for UFO's, leaves funny note and doesn't steal anything. I guess you'd fire most of your "security personnel", make some reforms before the real burglar has a chance. So the funny burglar doen't need to be punished or too harsh even maybe rewarded.
        Mattias Rust's story comes to mind, when he "defeated" the unbreakable Soviet Air Defense (much more sophisticated than Windows machines on default passwords). Several chief Soviet commanders retired then... Rust got a ridiculous sentence and a year later was at home...
        • If M. Rust

          would try it now in the free America -- would get sentenced for life without parole ... at Guantanamo
          • Would he?

            Why do you think that?

            More likely, he'd be sentenced to a minimum security facility (aka Club Fed) for violating FAA regulations (this would definitely be a nonviolent offense) and then would be deported as an illegal alien when his sentence was finished.

            I don't think even George W. Bush would have classified such a person as an "illegal combatant".
            John L. Ries
          • Uhh...

            FAA regulations only apply in a plane or doing things regarding aircraft. You can't violate them by hacking into FAA systems.
          • We're talking about

            Making an unauthorized flight into the U.S.A the way Matthias Rust did from West Germany to Moscow.
            John L. Ries
        • Good point

          We really don't know if any DOD computer security people were fired or reassigned (or at least chastised) over this, but it would surprise me if none were.

          But no, I really don't want the village lunatic breaking into my house and pawing through my stuff looking for evidence I'm a space alien either (don't want a reporter for Weekly World News doing so either); and I might well call the cops on him if I caught him.
          John L. Ries
          • this time

            it would Planet Niburu, or end of world, oh damn 12/15/12 no, it wouldn't :)
      • diverting computing resourses?

        my University is a Windows an MS shop... too much entropy, too little information