Alleged NASA hacker's appeal set for New Year

Gary McKinnon, the Briton faced with extradition to the United States, is charged with hacking into U.S. military systems.

After months of waiting, Gary McKinnon, the alleged "NASA hacker", has learned that his latest attempt to avoid extradition to the United States will be heard in the High Court in the New Year.

The case will be heard in London on February 13, 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 U.S. was justified, after which McKinnon was granted leave to appeal to a higher court.

If his second appeal on February 13 is not successful, McKinnon's only remaining avenue is to appeal to the House of Lords, a British court of last resort, 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, who lives in London, is accused of hacking into 53 U.S. government computers, including some used by NASA, and causing US$700,000 worth of damage.

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 United States)," he said.

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

McKinnon has been fighting extradition since July last year. The accused hacker has never been convicted of an offence in the United Kingdom. He has admitted accessing U.S. systems, but maintains that he never damaged any of the systems he entered. When his actions were first discovered, the U.K. authorities did not think they were serious enough to be worth prosecuting.

The U.S. government maintains that McKinnon's exploits caused millions of dollars' worth of damage to a wide range of its crucial defense systems.

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

Colin Barker of ZDNet UK reported from London.'s Natasha Lomas contributed to this report.