Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Should we deport Gary McKinnon?

Here is an interesting story that has been bubbling along for a while now; Gary McKinnon is a computer whiz who was prosecuted back in 2002 for hacking into US defence systems. The kinds of systems that he hacked into included US Navy, NASA, US Government etc. apparently some 97 separate systems were breached, the US government claims that Gary caused half a million pounds worth of damage, and want him extradited to the USA to face trial and up to 70 years in jail. He recently appealed against a decision by a UK court to send him to the USA and the BBC covered the story again today here.

Of course, this kind of behaviour cannot be condoned and some form of punishment is certainly due, even Gary himself admits his guilt and has apologised, he claims that his activities were not malicious, he is not a spy and was involved in a somewhat childish "game" intended to sniff out UFO stories. Gary also suffers from Asperger's syndrome; this is a form of autism that affects the sufferer's ability to have normal social interactions, understandably sufferers often gravitate to activities like computing and hacking in particular because of the intensity of thought required and the lack of any need to communicate with other people in order to become good at it.

The question that this case raises for me is not one of guilt, I have no doubt that he did it, the issue for me is should he be extradited? Interesting even Human rights campaigner Terry Waite (the chap who was held hostage in the Lebanon for years) is in favour of dropping the case, citing "harmless" motives and an "irrational obsession" driven by his medical condition, the argument seems persuasive.

In the grand scheme of things this amount of money is not that significant, especially now when we compare it with the goings on in the financial services arena, health is a factor, should we be sending sick people abroad to face jail sentences? All these things are mitigating factors in this but the main point of principal for me is where this crime occurred, surely this is a crime that was committed on UK soil by a UK citizen, why then can the punishment not be determined by a UK court and actioned here in the UK? Compare this with the Bernard Madoff case, where a US citizen conned people out of $65 Billion around the world, plenty of people in the UK lost money and I suspect the sums involved far exceed that claimed in the McKinnon case and yet there is no talk of extraditing him from the US to the city of London, perhaps there is some underlying legal principal that I am not aware of in play here but it all seems a little one sided to me.

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