Gary McKinnon, the former systems administrator accused of hacking into sensitive US military computer systems, faces the prospect of a life sentence in jail with no chance of repatriation if he is extradited to the US, the UK’s Court of Appeal heard yesterday.
McKinnon, who is accused of causing £475,000 worth of damage to computers by hacking into computer systems belonging to the Pentagon, Nasa and the US military from his home in North London, claims that under human rights law he has a right to be tried in the UK.
“If he was returned to the US, he would undoubtedly face the prospect of pre-trial detention. There is no reasonable prospect of him being granted bail. He faces a long prison sentence, estimated by an expert at 45 years or more,” his barrister, Edmund Lawson QC, told the court.
Lawson accused US investigators of trying to coerce McKinnon into accepting a secret plea bargain by threatening him with a long prison sentence, with no prospect of returning to the UK, if he did not collaborate.
US officials presented McKinnon with the secret deal during an “off the record” meeting at the US embassy 2003, the court heard. If he had agreed to co-operate, he would have been offered a lighter sentence and the chance to serve part of his term in the UK.
“It was indicated if he did not co-operate there would be no repatriation,” Lawson told the court.
Lawson accused US prosecutors of deliberately stringing out the proceedings so they could take advantage of a new extradition law introduced in the UK that does not require a prima facie case for extradition.
He said the Home Secretary did not take McKinnon’s human rights into account when ordering his deportation.
McKinnon, who hacked into the US systems shortly after the 9/11 attacks, is the first UK hacker to face extradition to the US, in what is widely viewed as an attempt by US prosecutors to send a strong signal to other would-be hackers.
McKinnon, who did not attend court yesterday, says he became addicted to hacking while searching on US government computers for evidence of alien technology. He claims to have seen pictures of alien spacecraft on a Nasa server.
He was able to access military computer systems by identifying PCs that had been left set on default passwords. He was able to gain administrator privileges to access information on the government networks.
The appeal continues today.
David Lacey’s security blog
The latest ideas, best practices, and business issues associated with managing security
Comment on this article: firstname.lastname@example.org