The Crown Prosecution Service has announced that it will not prosecute a hacker who would prefer to face trial in the UK rather than face extradition to the US.
Gary McKinnon has said he would plead guilty to an offence under the UK's Computer Misuse Act if he could stay in the country rather than face trial in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, where he was indicted in November 2002.
McKinnon faces charges of illegally accessing and damaging US government computers. The US government alleges his exploits cost at least US$700,000 and caused the shutdown of critical military networks shortly after the 11 September, 2001, terrorist attacks. McKinnon could face a sentence of 60 years or more.
A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said Thursday that the U.S. has always wanted to maintain jurisdiction. UK prosecutors agreed in 2002 to cede jurisdiction since the harm occurred inside the US, most witnesses are there and the bulk of evidence was in the US, among other reasons, the spokesman said.
McKinnon's law firm, Kaim Todner, said that prosecutors made the decision not to prosecute, leaving him subject to extradition, before even asking the US for evidence.
Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos said, "The IT community is showing a lot of sympathy for his plight, and today's news will come as a blow. The real question is should we really be making such an example of a guy who was apparently just a UFO conspiracy theory nut? There's a danger that McKinnon is being used as a whipping-boy by a country embarrassed about the poor security of its computers in the months after 9/11."
But McKinnon is still fighting his extradition on another issue. He is appealing an extradition order approved by the UK secretary of state on the basis of his recent diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterised by obsessive behaviour and deficiencies in social interaction.
He's asked for a judicial review of the extradition order by the High Court, said his attorney Karen Todner. No date for the review has been scheduled.
McKinnon has publicly admitted to breaking into the US military systems, saying he was looking for evidence of UFOs. He used a program called "RemotelyAnywhere" to control US military computers, many of which only used default passwords, which made them easy to access.
He timed his hacking during the night UStime, but on one occasion miscalculated the time difference. Someone noticed a cursor moving on its own on a computer and severed the Internet connection. It prompted an investigation, and UK police eventually arrested him.