The UK has blocked the extradition of a British computer hacker to the United States, ending his decade-long campaign to avoid trial there over allegations he broke into sensitive military and NASA computer networks.
Theresa May, Britain’s interior minister, told the House of Commons on Tuesday that she had refused the US request to send Gary McKinnon, 46, to face charges over his actions between 2001 and 2002.
McKinnon, who has been fighting extradition since 2002, admits accessing US government computers but says he was hunting for evidence of extraterrestrial life.
May told parliamentarians there was no doubt McKinnon, who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome and depressive illness, was “seriously ill” and the extradition warrant against him should be withdrawn.
She said it was now for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, to decide whether he should face trial in the UK.
May said: “Since I came into office, the sole issue on which I have been required to make a decision is whether Mr McKinnon’s extradition to the United States would breach his human rights.
“Mr McKinnon is accused of serious crimes. But there is also no doubt that he is seriously ill.
“He has Asperger’s syndrome, and suffers from depressive illness. The legal question before me is now whether the extent of that illness is sufficient to preclude extradition.
“I have concluded that Mr McKinnon’s extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr McKinnon’s human rights,” she concluded.
Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee, reporting from London said: “McKinnon was looking for evidence for flying saucers when he hacked the US websites, he said he had no intention of terrorist activities, the UK government had pledged they would fight plans for any extradition to the USA for McKinnon.”
‘Intimidation and coercion’
Docotrs said there were concerns over McKinnon’s mental health and a risk he could attempt to commit suicide if extradited.
The previous plans to send McKinnon to the US had been publicly criticised by politicians across the British political spectrum, including Prime Minister David Cameron and his coalition deputy Nick Clegg.
McKinnon was originally arrested in 2002 and again in 2005, before an extradition order was made in July 2006.
US authorities have described the hacker’s actions as the “biggest military computer hack of all time”.
They insisted his hacking was “intentional and calculated to influence and affect the US government by intimidation and coercion”.
US officials said his actions caused $800,000 worth of damage to military computer systems.
The family of Babar Ahmad, who was extradited to the US alongside radical cleric Abu Hamza earlier this month, welcomed the decision but said questions had to be asked.
The family said: “Why within the space of two weeks, a British citizen with Aspergers accused of computer related activity is not extradited, while two other British citizens, one with Aspergers, engaged in computer related activity are extradited.
“A clear demonstration of double standards.”