New British Government Considers McKinnon's Appeal

Britain's new government is giving fresh consideration to a hacker's plea to postpone an upcoming court hearing in a long-running bid to avoid a U.S. trial that could send him to prison for decades.

The U.K.'s Home Office, which oversees criminal justice affairs, is reviewing a letter from lawyers for Gary McKinnon, who was charged in the U.S. in 2002 for breaking into military and government computers.

McKinnon is scheduled for a judicial review hearing in the High Court on May 25 and 26 on the basis of his diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome, a neurological disorder related to autism characterized by deficiencies in social interaction.

Theresa May, the new home secretary from the Conservative party, is expected to issue a response "as soon as possible," according to a Home Office spokesman.

"The Home Secretary has received a letter from Gary McKinnon's legal team asking her to agree to an adjournment of the Judicial Review in light of further representations," according to a Home Office statement.

McKinnon's case has risen in profile over the last couple of years, with celebrities, along with politicians, voicing their support for him.

The recent change in government could help his cause. Some members of the U.K.'s new coalition government have been highly critical of the circumstances of McKinnon's case.

Last year, David Cameron -- now Britain's prime minister -- criticized the extradition treaty McKinnon was subject to. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat's leader who is deputy prime minister, said last year he opposed extraditing McKinnon given his medical condition.

The U.K. government approved McKinnon's extradition in 2006, but his lawyers undertook a series of court maneuvers that have kept him from being extradited.

McKinnon had asked to be prosecuted in the U.K., but the request was denied on the basis that U.S. authorities wanted jurisdiction over the case and because most of the witnesses are in the U.S.

McKinnon was indicted by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in 2002 for hacking into 97 military and NASA computers between February 2001 and March 2002. He could face up to 60 years in prison.

McKinnon has remained free in the U.K. but isn't allowed to use a computer. He has publicly admitted to hacking the computers using a program called "RemotelyAnywhere," a remote access tool.

McKinnon has said that many of the computer systems still had their default passwords -- considered a poor security practice -- and that other passwords were easy to obtain.

McKinnon, who went by the name "Solo," contends he was merely searching for proof of the existence UFOs and didn't harm the systems. The U.S. military contends that McKinnon deleted critical files from its computers, which hampered its efforts after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Send new tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com.

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