NASA hacker McKinnon spared extradition to the US

NASA hacker McKinnon spared extradition to the US

Summary: Home secretary Theresa May has withdrawn the extradition order for Gary McKinnon, wanted in the US on charges of hacking into NASA and military systems, on human rights grounds.

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Gary McKinnon's 10-year fight against extradition to the US to face hacking charges looks to be over, after home secretary Theresa May said she has withdrawn the order on human rights grounds.

Gary McKinnon
Gary McKinnon

On Tuesday, May said there is no doubt that McKinnon is "seriously ill" and that the risk to his health was too great to extradite him, according to reports. Earlier this week, Home Office-commissioned experts said the removal of the self-confessed hacker to face charges in the US carries a "significant risk of suicidal behaviour" for McKinnon, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome.

US authorities began their bid to extradite McKinnon in 2005, accusing him of causing $700,000 of damage by hacking into NASA and military systems. The London resident admitted to the intrusion in 2002, but said he was merely looking for evidence of UFO activity.

Given that McKinnon carried out the hacking in the UK, there is now a chance that he could face trial in a British court. Director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer will now decide on that matter, May said.

May said that despite criticisms from MPs and others about "imbalance", the extradition treaty between the US and the UK is "broadly sound". However, she plans to introduce a 'forum bar', which would let British courts decide whether an accused individual should be tried in Britain or abroad.

In a post to Twitter, McKinnon's lawyer, Karen Todner, welcomed Theresa May's decision. "Am delighted by Home Secretary's decision not to extradite Gary McKinnon. The right result after all these years," she wrote.

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

Karen Friar

About Karen Friar

Karen Friar is news editor for ZDNet in the UK, based in London. She started out in film journalism in San Francisco, before making the switch to tech coverage at ZDNet.com. Next came a move to CNET News.com, where she looked after west coast coverage of business technology, and finally a return to her homeland with ZDNet UK.

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30 comments
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  • So, someone breaks the law, gets

    really distraught at the thought of being punished, and so we promise not to punish him because it might make him really upset. Oh, and we'll throw Aspergers into the mix just to gin up a little sympathy (disclaimer: I have a son with Aspergers, and there is no way I would excuse this kind of behavior in him).
    baggins_z
    • Will face trial in UK

      He won't escape the law, he will face charges in the UK. Did you even read the article before flexing your trigger finger ?

      However, the main witch-hunt that is required is the people responsible for the security around these US top secret systems - it was lamentable, bordering on Dereliction of Duty.

      ... and also the wilfull liars, cheats and hypocryte politicians, corporates, military and spooks Wikileaks have uncovered.

      "Say what you mean, and mean what you say".
      neil.postlethwaite
      • Face charges?

        "a chance" of facing charges isn't the same as actually facing them.
        ejhonda
      • A very small chance

        Yes there a very small chance he will face trial, I suspect however that the US will never hand over the evidence to the UK crown prosecution service and so no charge can or will ever be press.
        Knowles2
        • Why would the DOJ not?

          If U.S. prosecutiors were going to put Mr. McKinnon on trial, they'd have to present that very same evidence to a jury, so why not provide it to U.K. prosecutors so they can do it?
          John L. Ries
          • Not true...

            It wouldn't go before a jury - a judge would decide the case, and the evidence would be shown only to the judge because it is Confidential Information that could compromise the security of the United States. That one is easy - this was never going to be a jury case. It would be the government vs. McKinnon, with the government not required to produce any evidence because it's an Official Secret. They've done this type of thing many times before.
            Unusual1
          • Jury trial is guaranteed in federal criminal cases...

            ...and has been since 1789. McKinnon would have had to waive the privilege.
            John L. Ries
          • I'll note

            This has been done in cases involving alleged Al Qaeda operatives on the dubious theory that they're enemy combatants, instead of criminal suspects; but the only people who have even suggested that it might apply to McKinnon are his lawyers and supporters. Personally, I think the Obama Administration would be loath to apply such a theory to someone whom nobody has suggested was engaged in war against the U.S. I don't even think a projected Romney Administration would try it.
            John L. Ries
        • He showed-up the unsecured computing facilities.

          I guess that's an embarassment to the military, and the reason why they amplified a whopping great "damage" figure, which obviouslty cound not be true.
          peter_erskine@...
    • Just out of curiosity...

      ...how do you know he's guilty. After all, an accusation made by a U.S. Attorney is not proof, or even evidence of guilt.

      All I know about the case is what's been reported in the news, and I don't think you know more than I do.
      John L. Ries
    • You don't understand

      You don't really get the point baggins_z. The pure fact here is that he wont be extradited to the United States because he's likely to be a danger to himself. Ever heard of the prison term: "Suicide Watch?" I'll ber your son who has Aspergers isn't on trial for a major crime though. And if he was, I'm willing to bet you'd come to his defense saying that he'd be a danger to himself (suicide). That's the point the article is making. Is it right what he did? Probably not, but who are we to judge?
      JonFromSeattle
  • Sour grapes, England

    I know they're still pissed over that Declaration of Independence thing, but really. This guy is an admitted criminal. Maybe if he had hacked Kate Middleton's voicemail this would be taken seriously. What a country.
    guyonearth
    • Or maybe its our problems with your senate

      We implemented a new extradition treaty with the US a while ago to cover Uk to US extraditions and your senate still hasn't ratified the US to UK part of the treaty.

      Personally I agree with blocking the implementation of the UK to US side until the senate ratifies the US to UK part
      the.nameless.drifter
    • Yawn

      yawn, sterotypical insults.

      McKinnon to Guantanamo bay, to face swift and fair US justice - LOL.
      neil.postlethwaite
    • The Native Indians

      Might take issue with the Declaration of Independence, I'm sure they considered the country theirs in the first place.
      Alan Smithie
  • And people wonder why...

    The U.S. hatches operations to just "kidnap" these criminal for trial? I'm not saying it's right to do so, but when this kind of crap happens, it certainly make you understand why it would be done.
    Zorched
    • Hypocrisy still kills the understandability of it.

      As long as one country has a beef, it's very understandable why everyone should just accept when one country kidnaps another country's citizens for pursuit of someone's idea of justice? Think hard about that one and let the results sink in - remembering the two way street aspect. Like Iran should be able to take a guess at who produced Flame and snatch them off the streets for a "fair" trial? Pakistan should be able to track down Predator operators in the US and bring them back to trial for killing Pakistani citizens. Starts to lose its luster when it goes the other way...
      ejhonda
    • The problem is...

      ...that if we make a habit abducting accused criminals residing abroad and bringing them to trial in the U.S., we're implicitly giving permission to every other national government on the planet to do the same thing.

      Do we really want to give North Korea permission to abduct U.S. citizens and try them for defaming their leaders, or "revealing state secrets"?
      John L. Ries
      • Well said

        Lead by example. Don't people realise there are offences on the English statue books, specifically The Computer Misuse Act which was designed to prosecute such an offence.

        The issue here is The DoJ wanted to hang him out to dry as an example and apply a completely disproportionate sentence where as in England I suspect he would receive a suspended or community punishment.

        It's the Pentagon that should be on trial here for implementing such laughable security that some guy in London can hack into military systems from the comfort of his bedroom.
        Alan Smithie
        • Except

          "Don't people realise there are offences on the English statue books, specifically The Computer Misuse Act which was designed to prosecute such an offence."

          Except the UK already refused to prosecute him for that which is why the US started to extradite in the first place. He then later said he would plead guilty to the computer misuse act but again the UK refused.

          "The issue here is The DoJ wanted to hang him out to dry as an example and apply a completely disproportionate sentence where as in England I suspect he would receive a suspended or community punishment."

          Except that the US offered him a very good plea deal that he refused, Its not about making an example out of him its about making him face any type of justice at all. He might of gotten off with a suspended sentence or community punishment that would of been fine if he would of faced justice but again the UK refused to do it.

          "It's the Pentagon that should be on trial here for implementing such laughable security that some guy in London can hack into military systems from the comfort of his bedroom." Except if I found a car that was unlocked and broke into it, it wouldnt be that persons fault it would be mine since I broke into it. Then again I know the difference between right and wrong.
          NoThomas