Nasa hacker: I'm safe until prosecution decision

Self-confessed hacker Gary McKinnon has expressed relief at his four-week stay of extradition to the US to face hacking charges
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Nasa hacker Gary McKinnon has said he is 'safe' until the director of public prosecutions makes a decision about whether to prosecute him in the UK.

At the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday, McKinnon told ZDNet UK that home secretary Jacqui Smith had decided not to extradite the self-confessed hacker to the US to face charges of hacking military networks until Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, had decided whether to prosecute McKinnon in the UK. Starmer will reach a decision within four weeks.

"I'm safe until the director of public prosecutions makes his decision," said McKinnon. "Nice one. It's such a relief."

Before hearing the news, McKinnon faced the prospect of extradition to the US within a few days. If found guilty of hacking military systems and endangering national security by a US court, McKinnon could face up to 70 years in a maximum security prison.

A UK prosecution would enable McKinnon to avoid extradition to the US. McKinnon is accused of hacking into 97 US military computers, which he has never denied. He does deny US prosecution allegations that he caused over $700,000 (£430,000) worth of damage to military systems by deleting files.

In the UK, McKinnon could be prosecuted under the Computer Misuse Act. In late December McKinnon sent a letter to Starmer, confessing to offences under section 2 of the Computer Misuse Act, which involves unauthorised access to computer systems with intent to commit further offences. This offence carries a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment.

In addition to asking Starmer to prosecute McKinnon in the UK, McKinnon's solicitor Todner also requested in January that foreign secretary David Miliband press outgoing US president George Bush for a pardon for McKinnon, or at least that McKinnon be prosecuted in the UK.

Todner told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that she had heard nothing from either Miliband or the US authorities, but would make the same request of Barack Obama, who was inaugurated as US president on Tuesday.

"I don't think he can be pardoned," said Todner. "What I want is [the US] to give consent to a UK prosecution. If [the US] was willing, that would be a big plus point in terms of getting a UK prosecution."

The hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday was to consider another aspect of McKinnon's case — an application for a judicial review of home secretary Jacqui Smith's decision to continue with McKinnon's extradition, even after McKinnon was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome last summer. Asperger's syndrome is a condition on the autistic spectrum.

McKinnon's legal team requested from presiding judges Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Mr Justice Simon that the application for a judicial review be postponed until the director of public prosecutions had reached a decision. The judges denied the request.

"We didn't get an adjournment," McKinnon told ZDNet UK outside the courtroom. "Right now they're going ahead with the application for a judicial review. And I'm going to the pub."

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