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European Court Won't Save McKinnon From U.S. Trial

The hacker, who deleted data from U.S. military and NASA computer systems, claimed he would be subjected to inhumane treatment in the U.S. justice system.

The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday refused Gary McKinnon's request to intervene in a judgment last month that cleared the way for the U.S. to extradite McKinnon and try him for hacking United States military computers in 2001 and 2002.

McKinnon's appeal was based on the claim that he would be subjected to inhumane or degrading treatment in the U.S. justice system.

In late July, the United Kingdom's House of Lords dismissed McKinnon's appeal to prevent extradition to the U.S. McKinnon claimed that the disparity in possible penalties for cooperating (three to four years) with U.S. prosecutors and contesting U.S. charges (at least eight to 10 years) subjects him to illegal pressure to surrender his legal rights under U.K. law.

With the European Court of Human Rights' rejection of McKinnon's request for interim measures, McKinnon's last chance to avoid extradition lies with U.K. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. According to Reuters, McKinnon could be sent to the U.S. within three weeks if Smith declines to reconsider an earlier decision not to prosecute McKinnon in the United Kingdom.

McKinnon is alleged to have hacked into and deleted data from U.S. military and NASA computer systems, disrupting military operations in so doing. His activities are estimated to have cost $700,000 in damage.

U.K. authorities arrested McKinnon in 2002, but the country's Crown Prosecution Service declined to charge him. He was charged later that year by the United States.

In an interview with the BBC conducted after the House of Lords ruling, McKinnon described his actions as a moral crusade. "[UFOs] have been reverse-engineered," he said. "Rogue elements of Western intelligence and governments have reverse engineered them to gain free energy, which I thought was very important, in these days of the energy crisis."

In a blog post, Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos, observes that while IT professionals tend to hate hackers, they have expressed considerable sympathy for McKinnon. According to a poll Sophos conducted in 2006, 52% of the 565 IT professionals who responded to an online poll felt that McKinnon should not be extradited.

Cluley suggests that U.S. prosecutors are keen to make an example of McKinnon, but he wonders whether there might not be others who would better fit that role. "When the really serious cybercriminals are the ones doing it for money, stealing identities, and creating botnets, should we really be making such an example of a guy who was apparently just a UFO conspiracy theory nut?" he asks.

This story was edited on Aug. 29 to clarify that the European Court of Human Rights is not connected to the European Union.

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