Judge approves extradition of 'Pentagon hacker'

Out-Law News | 10 May 2006 | 3:24 pm | 2 min. read

An English court has approved the extradition of alleged Pentagon hacker Gary McKinnon, according to reports. But his lawyer has vowed to appeal, a last attempt to prevent him standing trial in the US on charges that carry a sentence of up to 70 years.

The US government alleges that McKinnon hacked into military computers and caused damage. McKinnon has admitted hacking the US networks. But he has suggested he was seeking suppressed evidence of UFOs and denies causing harm.

According to the US indictment, between March 2001 and March 2002, McKinnon hacked into and damaged more than 90 computers belonging to the US Army, Navy, Air Force, Department of Defense and NASA, and six computers belonging to private businesses.

The indictment alleged that McKinnon scanned a large number of computers in the .mil internet domain name network, was able to access the computers and obtained administrative privileges. Once he was able to access the computers, McKinnon is alleged to have installed a remote administration tool, a number of hacker tools, copied password files and other files, deleted a number of user accounts and deleted critical system files. The loss to the various military organizations, NASA and the private businesses was estimated at $700,000. McKinnon was charged on seven counts of hacking and on each count faces a maximum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

The US sought McKinnon's extradition and McKinnon challenged it in Bow Street Magistrates Court.

Unauthorised access to a computer would not be sufficient to justify extradition from the UK because the UK's Computer Misuse Act currently carries a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment for this offence. Under an extradition treaty of 1972 between the US and the UK, only an offence carrying a maximum sentence of one year or more in both countries is eligible for extradition. But the charges against McKinnon include causing damage – and that carries a maximum sentence of five years in the UK. It is irrelevant that the sentence is higher in the US.

McKinnon might have argued that the request for extradition was made with a view to punish him for an offence of a political character. Alternatively he could and did argue that he would not receive a fair trial in the US. The UK-US treaty allows extradition to be refused on any ground specified by the law of the requested party. In the UK, the right to a fair trial is enshrined in the Human Rights Act and the European Convention of Human Rights.

But Silicon.com reports that Judge Nicholas Evans today rejected McKinnon's argument that he would face an unfair trial in the US where McKinnon's case has been characterised as a matter of national security.

Judge Evans told the court he is confident in assurances received from the US that McKinnon will be tried in a civilian court and will not stand trial under 'Military Order No. 1' which could have seen his indefinite imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay, reports Silicon.com.

Karen Todner, Mr McKinnon's solicitor, told BBC News: "We're obviously very disappointed with the judgement that was given this morning. We're proposing to appeal this to the Secretary of State, and if we're still refused we will then appeal to the High Court for a decision to allow Gary to be tried here as a British citizen."