European Court Delays British Hacker's Extradition to US

The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday temporarily held up the extradition of a British computer hacker facing computer misuse charges in the U.S.

The court said Gary McKinnon, 42, of London, should be allowed to stay in the U.K. until Aug. 28 when the court reconvenes and can make a further decision on whether to stop his extradition pending a last-ditch appeal, said Karen Todner, McKinnon's lawyer.

McKinnon lost his last U.K. appeal on July 30. He fought extradition on grounds that U.S. authorities bullied him, trying to elicit a confession from him in exchange for a lesser sentence, a tactic known as plea bargaining and commonly used by prosecutors in the U.S.

The Lords of Appeal reject McKinnon's argument, saying that in the U.K. defendants often engage in similar negotiations.

McKinnon then filed an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. He also asked the court to stop his extradition pending his appeal even though it could take the court as long as two years to hear his case.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said Tuesday he was aware of the latest development but could not comment.

McKinnon's persistent battle against extradition could very well land him with a longer sentence. If he had pleaded guilty when the U.S. offered him a deal, McKinnon could have been sentenced to as few as four years.

After serving six to 12 months in the U.S., he could have returned and done the rest of his sentence in the U.K. A parole board could have authorized his release after serving a total of only two years, according to the Lords' judgment.

If he is extradited and prosecuted in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, he could face up to 60 years in prison.

McKinnon has also contended that he could be classified as a terrorist since the U.S. government alleges he disrupted critical military networks following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

U.S. prosecutors allege McKinnon's probing knocked 2,000 computers offline and that he deleted 2,455 user accounts as well as logs on computers at U.S. Naval Weapons Station Earle, a New Jersey facility used to track U.S. Navy ships. McKinnon also copied data from U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and NASA computers. Damage was estimated at US$700,000.

McKinnon admitted to hacking with a program called RemotelyAnywhere, a remote access tool used by system administrator to fix PCs. He said he was looking for evidence of UFOs. U.S. military networks often used default passwords and generally had weak security, he has said.

But he also left other damning evidence, including one note on a hacked PC that said: "U.S. foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days. It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand down on September 11 last year. I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels."

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