'My little ray of hope' – hacker buys time over US extradition
A COMPUTER hacker facing extradition to the United States has been given a reprieve of a few weeks.
Scots-born Gary McKinnon faces a lifetime in jail if he is found guilty in the US of sabotaging vital defence systems after the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001.
His extradition was postponed until 15 February yesterday while Keir Stamer, the new Director of Public Prosecutions, reviews the case.
The news came as the High Court in London heard his lawyers call for a judicial review of his case, on the grounds that his Asperger's syndrome was not taken into account when the Home Secretary first granted his extradition.
Speaking outside the court, McKinnon, of Wood Green, north London, said: "It's been a good day overall. For a change it's slightly good news – a little ray of hope."
Earlier, his counsel warned that the 42-year-old would be a suicide risk if he was sent to an American prison. Edward Fitzgerald said McKinnon was "a seriously disordered person", whose health would suffer if he were sent so far away from his family.
He said the danger would increase if McKinnon were held in harsh conditions in a maximum-security prison, where he faces up to 70 years in jail for hacking into US government and Nasa computers.
Mr Fitzgerald accused Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, of failing to consider these risks before deciding in October last year to permit extradition. He said she had also failed to request an undertaking from the US that McKinnon would be repatriated to serve his sentence in the UK, or request that he be given bail pending trial.
The lawyer added that McKinnon's repatriation had been used as a "bargaining counter" and that there was a "whiff of abuse" about the possible extradition.
McKinnon is accused of "the biggest military computer hack of all time" after allegedly accessing and damaging 97 American army, navy, Nasa and Pentagon computers.
McKinnon has admitted hacking into computers and has asked to be charged in this country under the Computer Misuse Act.
In papers lodged with the House of Lords, Mr Fitzgerald quoted Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University, an expert on Asperger's syndrome, who diagnosed McKinnon. Prof Baron-Cohen said: "If, as I believe, the crime was committed through naivety and through an obsession – in this case with computers and trying to find information – without any intent to deceive, without any attempt to hide what he was doing, we should be thinking about this as the activity of somebody with a disability rather than a criminal activity."
Mr Fitzgerald said his client would plead guilty in Britain to an offence under the Misuse of Computers Act and said that lawyers had written to the Director of Public Prosecutions admitting McKinnon's guilt.
McKinnon has denied that he had malicious intent. He has said that he was searching for evidence of UFOs.
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