Protesters decry NASA hacker's extradition

Supporters of Gary McKinnon protest his upcoming extradition to the U.S., where he will face trial for his self-confessed hacks into defense computer systems.

Protests chant outside Britain's Home Office in support of Gary McKinnon. Tom Espiner/ZDNet UK

A peaceful protest supporting self-confessed NASA hacker Gary McKinnon took place this week in London.

About 35 backers showed up Tuesday in front of the Home Office to protest the extradition of McKinnon to the United States. They said he should instead be put on trial in the United Kingdom, where he lives.

McKinnon is accused of one of the biggest military hacks ever, slipping into computer systems belonging to the U.S. Army, Air Force, Department of Defense, and NASA. The U.S. government alleges that McKinnon's hacking activities caused $700,000 worth of damage. McKinnon has always maintained that his activities were harmless and that he was merely looking for evidence of UFOs.

European Court of Human Rights turned down his extradition appeal last week. If found guilty of the hacking charges in a U.S. court, McKinnon could face up to 70 years in prison under anti-terrorism laws.

Karen Todner Tom Espiner/ZDNet UK

Karen Todner, McKinnon's solicitor and a protester, said that he should at least be allowed to serve his sentence in the U.K. because of his recent diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. Todner is preparing further appeals to the extradition.

Lucy Clarke, McKinnon's girlfriend and a protester, said he has become withdrawn following the loss of his appeal. "He's shut down," Clarke told ZDNet UK. "Gary's been living with this for six years. I'm surprised he hasn't had some kind of breakdown before now...We are very concerned about his health."

Clarke added that she hoped the U.S. would be "realistic" in sentencing McKinnon. "I want the Americans to be realistic here, a bit bloody realistic" Clarke said. "Seventy years is a joke. At the end of the day, this was a bloke on a computer. If you haven't got passwords, you're lucky that Gary wasn't a terrorist. He's always said he was wrong, but they should have had the security set up. He hasn't murdered anybody."

Lucy Clarke (left) and Janice McKinnon,
Gary McKinnon's mother" credit="Tom Espiner/ZDNet UK" />

The Home Office gave an official statement to ZDNet UK about the Extradition Act 2003 and the 2003 extradition treaty between the two countries.

"These arrangements are fairly balanced, despite differences in terminology and procedures," stated a Home Office representative. "There are strong safeguards in place in the Extradition Act 2003 which ensure that the courts and the home secretary consider a number of issues, such as human rights and double jeopardy before anyone is extradited from the U.K. to the U.S."

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.