Earlier in the year, an Algerian national was extradited from Thailand to the US for allegedly playing a crucial role in the development and distribution of the cyber virus “EyeSpy”. The story proved how foreign hackers are no longer safe from FBI prosecution. The latest story involving computer hacking is centered on the UK hacker Gary McKinnon winning an extradition battle.
McKinnon was indicted in 2002 on charges of hacking into the US government’s computers. What followed was a decade-long battle in courts in the UK to avoid extradition to the US. Instead, McKinnon sought to face trial in Britain. Gary McKinnon’s health was the source of his avoidance of extradition.
Having Asperger Syndrome, McKinnon is at a high risk of suicide and it was within these grounds that led to the 47-year-old winning his extradition battle against the United States. According to BBC, in 2012, the UK Home Secretary Theresa May told MPs that the British computer hacker was “seriously ill” and that the extradition warrant should be withdrawn.
The Decision to Not Extradite McKinnon
More than a year later a decision not to extradite McKinnon was finally made. In a recent press statement, Theresa May spoke of how McKinnon’s health posed too great of a risk to deport him to the US.
“After careful consideration of all of the relevant material, I have concluded that Mr. McKinnon’s extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr. McKinnon’s human rights,” said May.
Gary McKinnon did publicly admit to hacking into US government computers but has always maintained he was seeking proof of UFO existence rather than anything more sinister. However, according to the indictment, McKinnon is accused of causing up to $800,000 in damages by deleting crucial files. On top of this McKinnon is also accused of hampering US military efforts after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
According to The Independent, the United States referred to the case as the“biggest military hack of all time”.
Given the severity of how the US perceived Gary McKinnon’s actions, the announcement that the 47-year-old had won his extradition fight came as a shocking decision. In fact, the decision to not allow McKinnon to be extradited has been hailed as a significant milestone for those who have campaigned against the UK’s extradition system with the US.
The case of this man with Asperger and severe depression being threatened with extradition where he would face up to 70 years of isolation in a maximum security prison for what he claims was attempting to seek proof of UFOs quickly became an exemplifying case-study for many critics of Britain’s extradition system with the United States.
Critics and Results of the Decision
However, the British Home Secretary’s condemnation of US detention and fight to refuse to extradite Gary McKinnon has not been without criticism. In 2012, Theresa May and Britain were accused of upholding a “double standard on extradition to US prison abuse”.
The “double standard” citation surfaced when two weeks after blocking McKinnon’s extradition to the US, May and other British government officials were, as the Guardian wrote:
“Practically volunteering to pilot the plane to the US themselves so that five other British citizens – all of them Muslims – would be subjected to the human right abuses that McKinnon was spared.”
One of the five Muslims accused of computer-related crimes also suffers from Asperger Syndrome and has been assessed as a suicide risk. Yet, despite the similarities, it has been alleged that May concluded Ahsan’s human rights would be fine in the United States.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the British Home Secretary has been accused of double standards and even racism for coming to contrasting conclusions despite the similarities of these two cases.
Nonetheless, in winning his battle against extradition to the United States there has been a turning point in UK/US extradition law. As well as confirming McKinnon won’t be forced to go to the United States, May also confirmed the introduction of a forum bar into UK extradition law. The bar will effectively mean that when prosecution is possible in both the UK and another state, the British courts will be able to bar prosecution in other countries. The outcome of where the case would be prosecuted would be determined by a court hearing in the UK.
“I believe extradition decisions must not only be fair, they must be seen to be fair, and they must be made in open courts, where decisions can be challenged and explained,” said Theresa May.
It certainly seems that Gary McKinnon’s high-profile case will make inroads in the quest to modify the Extradition Act of 2003. As we saw with the case of another alleged computer hacker, with echoing health problems, in order for Theresa May’s “fairness” to be executed, surely the same law and principles must be applied to everyone?