Soon after a British court ruled last week that it wouldn't stop the extradition of a British hacker, the man's mother made a plea to President Barack Obama to stop the legal proceedings.
Admitted hacker Gary McKinnon, 43, lost his latest appeal to be tried in the U.K. instead of being extradited to the U.S. to face federal prosecution here. The British High Court ruled that the U.K. simply doesn't have enough evidence to reflect the seriousness of the charges being leveled by U.S. federal prosecutors, leaving it unable to hand down a sentence that matches the seriousness of the charges, the BBC.com reported.
The BBC.com also noted that it's not clear whether McKinnon, who was an unemployed systems administrator in the U.K. at the time of the 2001 hacks, will be able to appeal his case to the U.K. Supreme Court.
"After so many years, it would be refreshing to see Mr. McKinnon actually have his day in court," said Scott Christie, who in 2001 was an assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey and was the first prosecutor brought into the case. "But as I've come to learn, nothing is certain until he actually steps foot on U.S. soil, so I will withhold my feelings of relief."
Janis Sharp, McKinnon's mother, holds out hope that her son will still not be extradited. Speaking to reporters outside of the courthouse today, Sharp appealed to Obama to stop the prosecution.
"I think Obama probably doesn't know about it and he's got so many things to consider," said Sharp, who added that she has been "desperately" trying to get in touch with the president. "It's a holdover from the Bush era and it's not from Obama. He would not want this to happen."
Sharp also said she fears that U.S. prosecutors will go for the death penalty for her son. "Obama, please hear about us," Sharp added. "Stand by us and make this world a better place, a more compassionate place. Please hear us, Obama. I know you'd do the right thing."
McKinnon has publicly admitted that in 2001 he broke into U.S. Department of Defense, NASA and U.S. Army computer systems. However, McKinnon has been using a series of legal maneuvers and appeals to fight extradition to the U.S. since he was indicted in November 2002 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on charges related to the computer hacks.
McKinnon described how he hacked into the U.S. systems in presentations at computer security conferences in London. He also has said he wasn't trying to damage the systems but was looking for evidence of UFOs on U.S. military computers.
The U.S. government alleges that McKinnon caused $900,000 in damages to computers in 14 states, and that he caused the shutdown of critical military networks and diverted much-needed investigatory work, shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He faces a sentence of 60 years or more in the U.S.
According to the U.K.'s Daily Mail, McKinnon's attorney, Edward Fitzgerald, has been arguing that the British courts have failed to take into account human rights issues associated with the case.
Fitzgerald also contends that an extradition, trial and sentence would weigh too heavily on McKinnon, who reportedly has Asperger's Syndrome, an autism-related neurobiological disorder. He added that the stress of it could make McKinnon psychotic or suicidal, according to a report from BBC.com.
The case took on a new level of cause celebre earlier this year, when London Mayor Boris Johnson wrote a column in the London Telegraph that asked President Barack Obama to call off U.S. efforts to extradite and prosecute McKinnon. Johnson called those efforts a "legal nightmare" and described the move as "American bullying."
Since then, other celebrities have joined McKinnon's cause.
In April, McKinnon's mother, Janis Sharp, announced that David Gilmour, singer and guitarist for the iconic English rock bank Pink Floyd, had recorded a song for an upcoming CD that's being put together to support McKinnon.
Christie, who now leads the IT group at law firm McCarter & English LLP, said it's hard for him to understand the support that McKinnon has found in the U.K.
"It's hard to understand how this case has become such a media circus when, in fact, it is relatively clear cut that he committed criminal conduct by breaking into U.S. military computers," he added. "It seems that many people in the U.K. fail to appreciate the seriousness of his conduct and seem to excuse what he has done by virtue of his supposed motivation to uncover evidence of UFOs or his Asperger's Syndrome, which does nothing to mitigate his guilt and is irrelevant in determining whether he has committed a crime.... People have seized upon inaccurate facts to make Mr. McKinnon a martyr almost."
This story, "British Hacker's Mom Appeals to Obama" was originally published by Computerworld.