UK Court will Hear Hacker's Extradition Plea

By: Meera Selva
By: Meera Selva

LONDON (AP) -- A British court ruled Friday that a man who hacked into U.S. military computers can seek a new hearing in his battle to avoid extradition.

Lord Justice Maurice Kay said the fact that Gary McKinnon had been diagnosed recently with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, merits further consideration. He agreed to permit McKinnon's lawyers to present arguments at a hearing in March that will determine if he gets a chance to formally appeal the extradition.

U.S. prosecutors say McKinnon, 42, broke into 97 computers belonging to NASA, the Department of Defense and several branches of the military from a bedroom in a north London home, causing nearly $1 billion in damage.

McKinnon said he was looking for evidence of Unidentified Flying Objects and only succeeded in his hack because of lax security.

His lawyers said McKinnon he is likely to become suicidal if he is removed to the United States away from family and familiar surroundings.

His attorney Karen Todner said Home Secretary Jacqui Smith did not consider these risks properly when she ruled in October that the extradition should proceed.

U.S. officials say McKinnon's hacking - which took place soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States - shut down the U.S. Army district responsible for protecting Washington, D.C., and cleared logs from computers at Naval Weapons Station Earle in northern New Jersey, which tracks the location and battle-readiness of U.S. Navy ships.

McKinnon was caught in 2002 when investigators traced software used in the attacks to his girlfriend's e-mail account. If he is extradited, he will face trial on eight charges of computer fraud. Each count could bring a sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but U.S. prosecutors have said he would likely receive a much lighter sentence.

McKinnon's lawyers had argued that any alleged offense that took place in Britain should be tried in Britain, but British and European courts have so far rejected repeated legal attempts to prevent his extradition. Earlier this month, McKinnon offered to plead guilty to a criminal charge in Britain to avoid extradition. British prosecutor Keir Starmer will decide next month whether to prosecute McKinnon in Britain.

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