McKinnon's lost decade

Paul Fisher, editor, SC Magazine
Paul Fisher, editor, SC Magazine

It is ten years since Gary McKinnon's life turned into a recurring nightmare. His casual and, thanks to poor IT security, simple hack into US military computers as he was searching for evidence of UFOs turned into something far, far more serious.

At the time of the alleged offence, and the computer misuse legislation, the worst he could expect was a few months in a low-security UK prison. Then came September 11 and a hastily configured US/UK extradition treaty. McKinnon was suddenly faced with a US trial and decades in an American jail.

It is six years since I wrote an editorial about the difficulties of the case, pointing out that “arguments over the extradition laws are extra, not integral, to this case”. I was also concerned that McKinnon's case had been damaged by parties seeking to exploit it for unrelatedcauses. I still believe the latter, but not the former. Today the campaign to prevent McKinnon's extradition is more focused on McKinnon as an individual and that he is the victim of an unequal and ill-thought-through extradition treaty that serves the interests of one nation. I fully agree with this position.

More pertinent is the ordeal that McKinnon has lived through for the past ten years. Successive home secretaries have failed him through indecision, indifference or ignorance. There was hope when Barack Obama came to power in the US that things might change. They didn't. There was hope again when David Cameron entered office. Still nothing changed. And so it went on. Day in, day out, while along the way more and more serious-minded people joined the fight to keep McKinnon in the UK.

It is surely high time the Government revisited the extradition treaty and ensured that McKinnon stays in this country. If there is a trial then it should be in the UK; if McKinnon is found guilty then he should serve his punishment here.

Gary McKinnon has already suffered enough. Extraditing him has long since lost any meaning. It really is now about breaking a butterfly on a wheel. What really is the point?  

We have commemorated the tenth year of the McKinnon case with a special feature by Derek Parkinson, which looks at the extradition treaty at the heart of the matter.

Paul Fisher

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