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UK Declines to Prosecute Hacker Wanted in US

British authorities said Thursday they won't prosecute a hacker who would prefer to face trial in his own country rather than face extradition to the U.S.

Gary McKinnon, of London, has said he would plead guilty to an offense under the U.K.'s Computer Misuse Act if he could stay in the country rather than face trial in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, where he was indicted in November 2002.

McKinnon faces charges of illegally accessing and damaging U.S. government computers. The U.S. government alleges his exploits cost at least US$700,000 and caused the shutdown of critical military networks shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. McKinnon could face a sentence of 60 years or more.

A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said Thursday that the U.S. has always wanted to maintain jurisdiction. U.K. prosecutors agreed in 2002 to cede jurisdiction since the harm occurred inside the U.S., most witnesses are there and the bulk of evidence was in the U.S., among other reasons, the spokesman said.

McKinnon's law firm, Kaim Todner, said that prosecutors made the decision not to prosecute, leaving him subject to extradition, before even asking the U.S. for evidence.

But McKinnon is still fighting his extradition on another issue. He is appealing an extradition order approved by the U.K. secretary of state on the basis of his recent diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by obsessive behavior and deficiencies in social interaction.

He's asked for a judicial review of the extradition order by the High Court, said his attorney Karen Todner. No date for the review has been scheduled.

McKinnon has publicly admitted to breaking into the U.S. military systems, saying he was looking for evidence of UFOs. He used a program called "RemotelyAnywhere" to control U.S. military computers, many of which only used default passwords, which made them easy to access.

He timed his hacking during the night U.S.time, but on one occasion miscalculated the time difference. Someone noticed a cursor moving on its own on a computer and severed the Internet connection. It prompted an investigation, and U.K. police eventually arrested him.

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