Alan Johnson rebuffs MPs over McKinnon case

MPs will seek a meeting with the new US ambassador after their attempts to have self-confessed hacker Gary McKinnon tried in the UK were rebuffed by the home secretary yesterday.

MPs will seek a meeting with the new US ambassador after their attempts to have self-confessed hacker Gary McKinnon tried in the UK were rebuffed by the home secretary yesterday.

Michael Meacher (Labour), David Davis (Conservative) and Chris Huhne (Liberal Democrats) told home secretary Alan Johnson that he had the power to stop McKinnon's extradition to the US.

McKinnon faces charges in the US that he hacked into 97 US Army, Navy, NASA and Defence Department computers immediately following the 9/11 attacks, left the military network vulnerable to intruders and caused thousands of dollars of damage.

According to Meacher's blog, "(Johnson) confirmed - contrary to some reports - that it would not be illegal for him to block the extradition. But he made clear that in his view, after a string of court decisions at all levels over the last seven years, it would be very difficult for him to do so."

A Home Office statement said, "It would be illegal for the Home Office to stop the extradition of Gary McKinnon, which the High Court ruling has made clear. Mr McKinnon is accused of serious crimes and the US has a lawful right to seek his extradition, as we do when we wish to prosecute people who break our laws."

According to Meacher, Johnson said humans rights laws gave him the power to act only if there was evidence that the defendant could be subject to capital punishment, or that he might be transferred to a third country, or that he might be tried on a different charge from that being alleged.

At an earlier hearing by the Law Lords, it emerged that FBI investigators had threatened to see McKinnon "fry" unless he signed a plea bargain deal. McKinnon, who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, an autistic condition, told Computer Weekly at the time that he believed they meant to electrocute him.

The home office said the previous home secretary had already sought and received clear assurances from the US that McKinnon's health and welfare needs would be met, should he be extradited.

According to Meacher, Johnson was reluctant to set a precedent by stopping McKinnon's extradition in case it affected other cases. This included that of Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, whom the Americans want on terrorism charges. Abu Hamza is serving seven years for inciting murder and racial hatred.

The delegates said this showed flaws in the Extradition Act 2003. Not only did it give rights to the US that were denied to the UK, but it applied the same rules to a misguided but innocuous young man as to a serious alleged terrorist, Meacher wrote.

The delegates asked Johnson to consider intervening behind the scenes with his US counterparts in the US department of justice and homeland security. Johnson declined to do so.

"Our next move is to seek a meeting with the new US ambassador," Meacher wrote.

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