Gary McKinnon deserves prosecution not extradition

Is Gary McKinnon merely a UFO-obsessed celebrity nerd with Asperger’s syndrome, who deserves a slap on the wrist (and his own newspaper column) for hacking into US military and NASA computer networks?

Gary McKinnon deserves prosecution not extradition

Or is he a cyberterrorist responsible for the biggest hack in US military history, a fugitive from justice who deserves prosecution in the US and possibly 60 years in a “supermax” prison? Actually, he’s neither.

Media coverage of his case has offered little room to reach anything beyond these two extremes, and he’s become a cause célèbre with everyone from politicians – Gordon Brown expressed sympathy, and Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay will stand down at the next election in protest at the handling of his case – to celebs such as Sting and Stephen Fry.

As for the man on the Clapham Twitterbus; more than 2,000 Twits display “Free Gary” ribbons on their profiles…

Now I disapprove of McKinnon’s extradition – which might surprise you, as I’m an IT security consultant – but that’s because it depends on a one-sided, flawed, knee-jerk agreement reached after the 9/11 attack as part of the War Against Terror, and some loner poking around in NASA computers for little green men barely constitutes a terrorist threat.

Gary McKinnon

A senior Pentagon officer has stated that McKinnon left “silly and anti-American messages” as a measure of how serious the breach was. I’m not alone either, as a Sophos poll of IT professionals showed that 71% feel that McKinnon should be prosecuted but not be extradited.

His Asperger’s condition needs to be taken as greater mitigation than the court appears to have allowed, and sending him for trial and almost certain lifetime detention in the US may be life-threatening, which looks like a cruel and unusual punishment.

What I will not support is the Free Gary campaign. McKinnon is a self-confessed hacker, known as Solo, who denies causing damage but admits accessing secret military and government systems by using a Perl script to search for blank, default passwords.

He doesn’t deserve to go scot-free, because that would send entirely the wrong message to other hackers. He doesn’t deserve to go scot-free, because he’s broken the law. And he certainly doesn’t deserve to go scot-free simply because he’s become the focus of a campaign that has more to do with public distrust of the current UK Government than with the nature of his crime.

It may be too late to get beyond the media hype and back to the core issues, but what I’d like to see is McKinnon admit his guilt to a UK court, accept his punishment like a man – be that prison or a fine – and then move on.

I’d also like to hear more people asking how it was so easy for one UFO-obsessed nerd to break into so many supposedly important and secret military networks, just after the US had experienced 9/11 and was on the highest possible terrorist alert status.

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