Home secretary considers Nasa hacker plea

The home secretary says he will decide 'quickly' whether psychiatric evidence regarding Nasa hacker Gary McKinnon is enough to keep him in the UK
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Home secretary Alan Johnson says he will decide 'quickly' whether he will intervene in the extradition of Nasa hacker Gary McKinnon.

On Tuesday Johnson told the Home Affairs Select Committee, an influential parliamentary scrutiny body, that he would be able to intervene in the case if evidence of McKinnon's psychiatric condition showed that extradition would infringe his human rights.

"Fresh evidence has been submitted," Johnson told the committee. "The situation has deteriorated. Gary McKinnon's psychological state is much worse and his propensity for suicide much greater."

The US government wishes to prosecute McKinnon for what US prosecutors have called "the biggest military hack of all time". Johnson told the committee that, under the terms of the UK's extradition treaty with the US, he could only intervene if extradition would breach McKinnon's Article 3 human rights.

Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. McKinnon's defence team has argued that as McKinnon has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, his extradition would be inhuman.

Johnson was called before the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday to explain why he had temporarily halted proceedings over McKinnon's extradition to the US.

Johnson told MPs on 26 October that he had "stopped the clock ticking" on the McKinnon case, by extending a deadline for McKinnon's defence team to launch an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). On Tuesday, he explained to the committee that he had extended the deadline because he wished to consider new medical evidence regarding McKinnon's psychiatric state.

McKinnon's defence solicitor Karen Todner told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that the new psychiatric evidence of McKinnon's state could allow Johnson to intervene. However, if Johnson decides McKinnon should be extradited, McKinnon's defence team would continue its bid to take the case to the ECHR, Todner said.

The ECHR declined to hear an appeal from McKinnon's in August last year, before psychiatric evidence was gathered.

Keith Vaz, the Labour MP who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee, told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that the committee would contact Johnson with its views on McKinnon's situation, and on the UK/US extradition treaty. Vaz has previously stated sympathy for McKinnon.

"We will have to write to the home secretary with our conclusions, which will happen very shortly," Vaz said.

McKinnon's MP, Conservative shadow justice minister David Burrowes, told ZDNet UK that he welcomed the inquiry. "The committee inquiry is helpful as it ensures parliamentary scrutiny [of the situation]," Burrowes said. "It's also timely given this is a last-chance saloon [for McKinnon]."

McKinnon's mother Janis Sharp told ZDNet UK that McKinnon was at real risk of harm. "Gary would rather be dead than extradited," she said.

McKinnon stands accused of hacking 97 US military computers between 2001 and 2002. McKinnon has admitted hacking the machines, claiming he was searching for evidence of extraterrestrial life. He denies US allegations of causing $700,000 (£400,000) damage to US military systems.

Editorial standards