Gary McKinnon is either a UFO-obsessed nerd who happens to suffer from a form of autism, or a fugitive from justice who was responsible for the biggest military hack of all time. The description varies depending upon whether you are a balanced individual with no axe to grind or the US authorities looking for a scapegoat to deflect the simple fact that their own cyber-defences are woefully inadequate.
Rather predictably, but nonetheless sadly, Gary McKinnon today lost his judicial review in London which he was hoping would allow him to be tried for his crimes in the UK rather than extradited to the US.
Look, I've been around the IT Security business for more than a decade, in fact fast approaching two now. I'm guessing that I know something about it, after all I am the current Information Security Journalist of the Year, an honour which I have been fortunate to have bestowed upon me twice in the three years since it has been awarded here in the UK. So it might surprise you to read that I am defending McKinnon, a hacker. Well the truth of the matter is that I am not. He is guilty as charged, he's admitted as much. He did hack into military and government systems to which he had no legal right of access. There is no arguing about that, and there should be no arguing that he deserves to be tried for this and sentenced accordingly. Whether that means prison time, a hefty fine or a slap on the wrist is up the court. But what I am saying is that it should be a British court that makes that decision, and not an American one. I seriously doubt that McKinnon could get a fair trial in the US where he has already been branded a fugitive from justice (for merely going through the legal process of appealing against an extradition order, something to which he has every legal and moral right) and various government and military mouthpieces have made it quite clear that they think the book should be thrown at him and McKinnon should get 'what he deserves' which would appear to be 60 years in a supermax prison apparently.
If there are any of my American readers getting hot under the collar at this point may I suggest you take a deep breath and start chanting 'Mountains and Molehills' to get things back into some perspective. McKinnon is no terrorist, no spy, no more than a very sad individual who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome. He is no threat to the USA, he never really was. If he caused damage, and I have no reason to believe he did not, then he must pay for his actions. But why must he pay on your side of the water, is justice not served if he goes through the legal process here?
I am not alone in having this opinion. Security outfit Sophos has taken a poll of IT professionals, the very people who, like me, you might expect to be on the side of the hacked rather than the hacker, and 71 percent believe that McKinnon should not be extradited to the US.
Of course, outside the IT profession there is huge support for McKinnon who has become an unlikely celebrity in the UK as a result of the US action and the inaction on behalf of the British Government which seems unwilling to step in and end this nonsense. From the man on the street to the Mayor of London, MPs and members of the House of Lords, people are saying it is wholly inappropriate to make an example of McKinnon when serious criminals accused of financially motivated crimes remain undealt with. Because of his Asperger's, it is claimed that McKinnon would not survive in an American prison and this should be taken into account when determining his suitability for extradition.
At fault is the 2002 extradition treaty law which was meant to make it easier to get suspected terrorists moved between the two countries, but which has done nothing of the sort. While terror suspects have managed to evade extradition with apparent ease, white collar criminals are being extradited left, right and centre. Even then, it is a totally lop-sided affair with the Americans requiring a serious burden of proof to be dumped before a judge to get an American citizen sent here, while the Americans only need to explain the charges to a UK Magistrate for a suspect to be handed over without any actual evidence of the crime.