U.K. Ends 10 Year Extradition Battle of Hacker Gary McKinnon

Wednesday, October 17, 2012, by Agnieszka Zmuda

U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May announced on Tuesday that British hacker Gary McKinnon will not be extradited to the U.S. on human rights grounds.   Four years ago, McKinnon was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and depression after losing an appeal.  Two years later, a High Court judge, along with psychiatric examiners, determined that McKinnon was at risk of suicide if extradited.

According to the Guardian, this is the first time that an extradition has been blocked since the signing of the Extradition Act of 2003 between the U.S. and U.K.

U.S. Federal prosecutors accused McKinnon of hacking into more than 90 unclassified U.S. government systems from February 2001 to March 2002.  During those alleged invasions, McKinnon crashed certain systems, causing $900,000 in damages.  McKinnon is also alleged to have left a message on a hacked Army computer, saying, “U.S. foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days.  It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand down on September 11 last year . . . I am SOLO.  I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels.” 

McKinnon, labeled by U.S. authorities as the “biggest military computer hack of all time,” admitted to the hacking in 2009, but denied doing any damage.  His lawyers claim that his only intention was to cause “temporary impairment.”  According to the BBC, McKinnon said he was on a “moral crusade” to prove a UFO cover-up by the U.S. 

Under the federal sentencing guidelines, McKinnon was looking at serving anywhere from just six months to six-and-a-half years. In April 2003, he rejected a written plea offer for six to twelve months in a U.S. low security prison, followed by a six-month parole back in the U.K.

It wasn’t until November 2004, that the U.S. formally requested his extradition.  In 2003, the UK and U.S. signed an extradition treaty.  According to a statement by the Home Office, “The information that must be provided by both the United States and the United Kingdom is effectively the same. The United Kingdom must demonstrate ‘probable cause’ to the United States courts, while the United States must demonstrate ‘reasonable suspicion’ to ours.” But the ACLU and others don’t view this treaty as being equal at all, but rather as being “lopsided” against British citizens.

This has led to years of legal battles and appeals, during which McKinnon garnered huge support from the ACLU, Britain, as well as some unlikely famous figures, including Peter Gabriel, Sting, Bob Geldof, Chrissie Hynde, and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.  According to the Wired, McKinnon gained such support because “he’s seen as the hapless victim of an overreaching American government and an unbalanced extradition treaty.”

Now that extradition is off the table, McKinnon is facing possible prosecution in the U.K.  As for future extraditions, May is planning on taking away the very same power from the Home Secretary position that allowed her to block this extradition and giving it to the High Court.  According to the Guardian, May announced the future introduction of a “forum bar” to balance out the treaty.  However, as McKinnon’s family celebrates this decision, other families of extradited British citizens are seeing this as a double standard.