The British home secretary, Theresa May, has announced that computer hacker Gary McKinnon won’t be extradited to the US on human rights grounds.
McKinnon has admitted hacking into US government web sites in 2001 and 2002, for which he could have faced a 70-year jail sentence. But he suffers from Aspergers syndrome and is believed to be a high suicide risk, leading to a ten-year legal battle.
“I have concluded that Mr McKinnon’s extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that the decision to extradite would be incompatible with his human rights,” says May. “I have therefore withdrawn the extradition order against Mr. McKinnon.”
McKinnon has received a great deal of support in the UK. His hacking attempts were prompted by a desire to find out if the Pentagon was covering up evidence of UFO visits, and are widely seen as endearingly eccentric rather than sinister.
The US authorities, however, have described his actions as ‘the biggest military computer hack of all time’.
But May’s move is also a response to more general complaints about Britain’s 2003 extradition treaty with the US, which many believe is one-sided: there’s a different burden of proof required by the two sides.
From now on, says May, a ‘forum bar’ will be introduced allowing UK courts to decide whether a person should be tried abroad when, as in this case, the crime was committed in the UK.
“The home secretary has spared this vulnerable man the cruelty of being sent to the US and accepted Liberty’s long-standing argument for change to our rotten extradition laws,” says Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty.
“Extradition should prevent fugitives escaping – not allow for Britons like Gary to be parcelled off around the world based on allegations of offences committed here at home.”
McKinnon may now face trial in the UK over the hacks.