Blunkett: Use technology to try McKinnon

Self-confessed Nasa hacker Gary McKinnon should be tried via video link to the US to mitigate the possible health effects of extradition, according to former home secretary David Blunkett
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Nasa hacker Gary McKinnon should be tried in the US via video link to the UK, former home secretary David Blunkett has urged.

The US and the UK should agree terms whereby McKinnon can be tried in the US while using technology to allow McKinnon to stay in the UK, Blunkett told the Commons home affairs select committee on Tuesday. The committee was hearing evidence into the extradition treaty that the UK has with the US. The treaty has widely been criticised, including by a number of MPs, as being unbalanced in favour of the US.

"I think it a good idea to explore whether if the US insists it holds a US case in a US jurisdiction, we might be able to use new technologies to get round health aspects," Blunkett said.

McKinnon's legal team insist that the self-confessed hacker of military systems, who has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, is at risk of suicide should he be extradited to the US. McKinnon has said that he broke into the systems looking for evidence of UFOs, and he denies causing damage worth $700,000 (£450,000), as alleged by US authorities.

Blunkett said that while McKinnon's mental health needs to be taken into consideration, the US should have the option to try him on its own soil.

"One of the main issues with Gary McKinnon is the impact of any removal from the country because of his health," Blunkett told ZDNet UK. "There are arguments that the case could have been dealt with in a different way. We should either give him the chance to make his case here, or have him removed."

The MP for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough added that the extradition treaty needs to be revisited to take into account advances in technology. "In an internet world, we don't have traditional boundaries," he said. "In the cyberworld, extraterritorial actions have an effect."

McKinnon's solicitor Karen Todner said that the idea of a trial via video link is a possibility worth exploring, but insisted that however the case is resolved, it should not involve the London resident setting foot on US soil.

Following an eight-year legal battle, McKinnon's extradition is on hold while his lawyers and the Home Office discuss the appointment of a psychiatrist to evaluate his risk of suicide.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown tried to set up a deal to allow McKinnon serve any sentence in the UK in a 2009 meeting with US ambassador Louis Susman, according to Wikileaks documents published by the Guardian on Tuesday. The deal was rejected.

Susman had been invited to appear before the home affairs select committee, but had declined, committee chairman Keith Vaz said on Tuesday.

The case should be dealt with in British court, according to Shami Chakrabarti, the director of civil rights group Liberty, which has held a rally in support of McKinnon. "All of the alleged hacking took place in a UK jurisdiction, and [McKinnon] is a very vulnerable man," the human rights campaigner told ZDNet UK.

That position was echoed by Janis Sharp, McKinnon's mother. "The Americans have been so intransigent," said Sharp. "I'm not convinced Gary would get a fair trial over there."

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