Gary McKinnon: the end of the affair

Malware hits the Mac but is it worth worrying about?
Malware hits the Mac but is it worth worrying about?

Yesterday saw the news that Gary McKinnon, his mother Janis Sharp and his supporters and opponents had been waiting more than ten years for – he will not face extradition to the United States.

McKinnon, who pleaded guilty to hacking into the Pentagon in 2002 for evidence of UFOs, has faced a succession of appeals and dealings with six Home Secretaries in trying to avoid extradition. Yesterday the news came in the House of Commons when Home Secretary Theresa May announced that ‘a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr McKinnon's human rights'.

May said: “Since I came into office, the sole issue on which I have been required to make a decision is whether Mr McKinnon's extradition to the United States would breach his human rights.

“Mr McKinnon is accused of serious crimes, but there is also no doubt that he is seriously ill. He has Asperger's syndrome and suffers from depressive illness. The legal question before me is now whether the extent of that illness is sufficient to preclude extradition. As the House would expect, I have very carefully considered the representations made on Mr McKinnon's behalf, including from a number of clinicians. I have obtained my own medical advice from practitioners recommended to me by the chief medical officer, and I have taken extensive legal advice.”

May said that following ‘careful consideration of all of the relevant material', she concluded that an extradition would give rise to the risk of McKinnon ending his life, and she was withdrawing the extradition order.

Far from being the end of the case though, May said that it was now a case for the director of public prosecutions to decide upon.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper MP was among many politicians welcoming the decision, especially from the opposition. She said: “It has taken a very long time for this decision to be made. I think we would all agree that such cases take too long, and that it is in the interests of justice, the families involved and the victims of crimes for them to be dealt with far more speedily.”

David Blunkett MP, who was Home Secretary at the time of the hacking, said that given the politically and emotionally charged atmosphere around this case, he understood why May took the decision she had. However he warned of creating a precedent for the future, particularly in relation to cyber crime issues, and suggested trying to organise video-conferencing for future trials and for sentences to be served in the United Kingdom.

“Without that, surely we will create a rod for our backs in that individual cases will be judged on the support they get from the public rather than on the logic and legal requirements that must be applied in any extradition case,” he said. However May said that the US were not keen on these plans.

Another key theme of the statement was a change to the laws on extradition. May said that there were concerns about extradition arrangements with countries outside Europe, primarily around ‘the perceived lack of transparency in the process'. This will allow British courts to bar prosecution overseas, if they believe it is in the interests of justice to do so.

May said: “The introduction of the forum bar will offer a transparent process whereby people will see how decisions are taken on whether it is right for someone who is subject to an extradition request to be tried here in the UK or in the US.”

The next extradition case that will generate interest is in regards to Richard O'Dwyer, who is also facing extradition to the US in relation to his video search engine TVShack.net, which US authorities say indexed links to media on other sites. He is charged with conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and criminal infringement of copyright and he has faced less joy, with a UK Magistrate and May approving the extradition.

The emergence of organised hacktivist groups like Anonymous and LulzSec has seen members arrested in the UK, such as Jake Davis and Ryan Cleary, while the police have warned off other wannabe activists. Although McKinnon will face trial, he has ‘won' this case on the grounds of his health and mental state, not because he has been let off the hook, and he will still face a trial in late November.

There is no way around the long arm of the law, not even if you offer yourself as an informant as LulzSec leader Sabu has done. The victory here is one for Gary and his family to know that he will face trial in his own country and free from any danger to himself and after ten years of waiting, which will bring much relief.

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