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Nasa hacker has 'shut down', say protesters

A protest has taken place outside the Home Office against the extradition of Gary McKinnon to the US
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1 of 6 Tom Espiner/ZDNet

A peaceful protest took place on Tuesday outside the Home Office on Marsham Street in London against the extradition of self-confessed Nasa hacker Gary McKinnon to the US. A group of approximately 35 people chanted slogans demanding McKinnon be tried in the UK.

McKinnon was accused of one of the biggest military hacks ever, after he hacked into a series of sites belonging to the US Army, Air Force, Department of Defence and Nasa. The US government alleged that McKinnon's hacking activities caused $700,000 (£350,000) worth of damage. McKinnon has always maintained his activities were harmless, and that he was merely looking for evidence of UFOs.

McKinnon had his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights turned down last week, and is due to be extradited to the US. If found guilty of the hacking charges in a US court, McKinnon could face up to 70 years in jail under US anti-terrorism legislation.

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2 of 6 Tom Espiner/ZDNet

Karen Todner, McKinnon's solicitor, said on Tuesday that she was preparing a further legal challenge should representations to home secretary Jacqui Smith fail. Todner had previously made representations to the Home Office asking that McKinnon serve any sentence in the UK, given his recent diagnosis with Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism.

"It's the least that the Home Office could do," said Todner. "Both the Dutch and the Israelis ask for assurances from the US for all of their nationals, but this has never been covered in UK case law."

Should the home secretary reject McKinnon's plea, Todner said she was preparing to apply to the High Court to prevent Gary's extradition, in the light of McKinnon's Asperger's diagnosis.

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3 of 6 Tom Espiner/ZDNet

Lucy Clarke, McKinnon's girlfriend, said he had withdrawn into himself following the loss of his appeal against extradition to the European Court of Human Rights.

"He's shut down," Clarke told ZDNet.co.uk. "Gary's been living with this for six years — I'm surprised he hasn't had some kind of breakdown before now. We were all absolutely shocked at the knockback from Europe — it was just soul destroying. It felt like a death. It's the only way to describe the massive amount of loss."

Clarke said that McKinnon had other medical problems, which had been exacerbated by stress. "He had palpitations — chest pains which he is still having. It's the stress. Every morning he wakes up with pains. We're very concerned about his health."

Clarke added that she hoped the US would be "realistic" in sentencing McKinnon. "I want the Americans to be realistic here, a bit bloody realistic" said Clarke. "Seventy years is a joke. At the end of the day, this was a bloke on a computer. If you haven't got passwords, you're lucky that Gary wasn't a terrorist. He's always said he was wrong — but they should have had the security set up. He hasn't murdered anybody."

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4 of 6 Tom Espiner/ZDNet

Gary's mother Janice McKinnon (pictured, right) told ZDNet.co.uk she was "very angry" that McKinnon was to be extradited.

"I feel angry and upset — America is running us," she said. "The [2003] Extradition Treaty is a joke. Gary has been threatened with being fried, but what do you expect from a country that runs a concentration camp like Guantanamo Bay? It's about time the UK government started to represent its citizens."

The 2003 Extradition Treaty between the UK and the US does not require the US to present any prima facie evidence to the UK authorities of any wrongdoing to extradite a UK citizen. This has led to criticisms from McKinnon's family that the treaty is not reciprocal.

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5 of 6 Tom Espiner/ZDNet

The Home Office gave an official statement to ZDNet.co.uk about the reciprocity of its arrangement with the US.

"Extradition between the UK and US is governed by the Extradition Act 2003 and the 2003 UK/US Extradition treaty. These arrangements are fairly balanced, despite differences in terminology and procedures," stated a Home Office spokesperson. "There are strong safeguards in place in the Extradition Act 2003 which ensure that the courts and the home secretary consider a number of issues, such as human rights and double jeopardy before anyone is extradited from the UK to the US."

"'Probable Cause' is a requirement of the US Bill of Rights, which it cannot amend. The 'probable cause' test is often misinterpreted as the US demanding more evidence from the UK then the UK requires of the US. In fact, the 'probable cause' test is broadly comparable to the requirement for 'information' about the offence that the UK requires of the US — information which would justify the issue of a warrant for the arrest of a person, also known as 'reasonable suspicion'.

"Previously, under the terms of the 1972 Treaty, the US was required to demonstrate a prima facie evidential case in support of extradition requests made to the UK, whereas we merely had to demonstrate 'probable cause', ie, we required more from the USA than they asked of us. To reintroduce the prima facie test would be to recreate an unequal relationship," said the spokesperson.

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6 of 6 Tom Espiner/ZDNet

Owen McMenamin, who described himself as one of McKinnon's close friends, said McKinnon had been charactersied as a dangerous hacker by the US authorities to draw attention away from the military's lack of security.

"The powers that be have to demonise him to hide their own inadequacies," said McMenamin. "The gravity of what he's done has been blown out of all proportion. He's one of the most well-intentioned guys. He wouldn't hurt a fly."

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