British man to face hacking charges in U.S.

Gary McKinnon, recently diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, says he hacked into NASA and military systems in search of UFO data. After losing appeal, he is set to be extradited.

Tom Espiner Special to CNET News
2 min read

Gary McKinnon has lost his legal challenge against extradition to the United States to face charges of hacking into NASA and military systems.

McKinnon had applied to the European Court of Human Rights for it to hear an appeal against his extradition. Under Rule 39, citizens can make an emergency application to halt extradition proceedings, if they believe that their human rights will be infringed upon.

Gary McKinnon ZDNet UK

McKinnon's legal team on Thursday sent out a statement saying his application had been denied. "Today the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Mr. McKinnon's application for Rule 39 Interim Relief," the lawyers said on the statement.

Two weeks ago, McKinnon's legal team submitted his application to the ECHR. Under the terms of the application, the U.K. government could not extradite McKinnon. This legal block has now been lifted.

"The temporary prohibition of our client's extradition, as granted by the ECHR on 12 August, is now effectively lifted, and the authorities of the United Kingdom are now free to extradite our client to the United States," the legal team said in the statement.

Karen Todner, McKinnon's attorney, told ZDNet UK on Thursday that McKinnon had run out of legal-challenge options. "In terms of legal challenges and court proceedings, we've gone as far as we can," Todner said.

However, McKinnon has recently been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Todner said she had written to home secretary Jacqui Smith asking that McKinnon be tried in the United Kingdom on medical grounds.

"We've written to the secretary of state, asking her to reconsider and keep (McKinnon) in the country," Todner said. "We've asked for two weeks to put the medical evidence before her."

Should that request be turned down by the home secretary, McKinnon could be extradited within two weeks. Todner said it normally takes 10 days to sort out the flights. McKinnon would not be taken into custody--instead, Todner said that normally, the police contact the solicitor asking that the accused surrender to a police station a couple of hours before takeoff.

Should McKinnon be found guilty of the charges laid against him, he faces up to 60 years in a U.S. prison. McKinnon has admitted to hacking into the U.S. systems, but has always maintained that he was searching for UFOs. "His family (is) distraught," Todner said.

Todner added that the alleged offenses were committed on British soil, and that the prosecution should be carried out by the U.K. authorities. "Our client now faces the prospect of prosecution and imprisonment thousands of miles away from his family in a country in which he has never set foot," she said.

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.