As protesters took to the streets again Thursday during the G20 world leaders summit, the U.S. embassy saw a much smaller rally in support of a British computer hacker.
Wanted by the U.S. for tapping into military computer systems, Gary McKinnon, 43, of London, is drawing increasing support from celebrities and others who don’t want to see him extradited to face trial.
Led by McKinnon’s mother, Janis Sharp, she and six other demonstrators performed a rewritten version of “Chicago” by Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
Nash granted permission to Sharp to modify the lyrics to focus on her son’s plight and autism, of which McKinnon suffers from a related condition.
Nash is one of several high-profile entertainers who have curiously thrown their support behind McKinnon, who could face as many as 70 years in prison if convicted in the U.S. of seven counts of fraud related to computers.
Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour as well as Sting, lead singer and bassist for The Police, have also expressed their support for McKinnon.
Although McKinnon has publicly admitted to hacking into NASA and other military computers, he maintains he was merely curious and was looking for evidence of UFOs.
However, the U.S. alleges between 2001 and 2002 he deleted critical files, copied user names and passwords and intentionally caused damage on U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, NASA and Department of Defense computers and those belonging to universities and companies.
McKinnon’s demure, inquisitive nature seems to have helped marshal support from many corners.
British authorities are pouring ever more money and police effort into fighting cybercrime. But McKinnon’s hacking — which wasn’t aimed at stealing money — seems to be widely regarded in Britain as harmless. The U.S. is pushing too hard, they say.
“It has been seven years now,” said Johnnie Smith, a friend of McKinnon who attended the rally. “It’s tormenting the family. It’s time to move on.”
The U.S. wants McKinnon to face trial in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, Virginia. McKinnon has fought extradition, using a series of legal challenges to postpone it. He is now awaiting a judicial review of the extradition order by the High Court, scheduled for June 9 and 10.
McKinnon is fighting extradition now on the basis that he has Asperger Syndrome, a neurological disorder related to autism that’s characterized by obsessive behavior and deficiencies in social interaction. One of his arguments is that due to his condition, he isn’t fit to stand trial in the U.S. Crown Prosecution Service officials say they won’t take the case since the U.S. wants jurisdiction.
McKinnon didn’t attend Thursday’s rally, which also fell on World Autism Awareness Day, an event designated by the United Nations. Sharp said her son has been deeply depressed.
“When a knock comes on the door, he’s afraid they’re going to drag him off,” Sharp said.