British Hacker Loses Appeal, Faces Extradition To U.S.

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Thursday the European Court of Human Rights denied an appeal by Gary McKinnon to halt his extradition on humanitarian grounds. McKinnon's attorneys had argued that the 42-year-old computer expert faced "inhuman or degrading treatment" if he is sent to prison in the U.S. McKinnon has few legal options left and could be extradited within a few weeks where he faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted, according to the Reuters news service.

McKinnon will likely appeal to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to allow him to be prosecuted in the U.K., but Smith earlier denied the same request. McKinnon also lost an appeal to Britain's highest court, the House of Lords, back on July 30 to block his extradition.

Observers say extradition has been relatively rare in international cybercrime and that McKinnon's case could signal the U.S. government's intention to more aggressively prosecute suspects outside the country.

McKinnon, who was indicted in 2002, is charged with breaking into 92 U.S. government computer networks in 2001 and 2002, including those operated by the Pentagon, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy and NASA. Prosecutors have said McKinnon's actions crippled crucial national security systems around the time of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including shutting down for three days the network that serves the military district for Washington D.C.

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McKinnon's alleged activities caused some $700,000 in damage, according to prosecutors. At the time of the indictment Paul J. McNulty, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, called the case "the biggest hack of military computers ever detected."

While McKinnon hasn't denied gaining access to the computer networks, he said he had become obsessed with finding proof that extraterrestrials had visited Earth and was searching for pictures and other evidence of aliens and UFOs. He has challenged government estimates of the amount of damage caused by the intrusions and no one has charged him with belonging to a terrorist network.

McKinnon's attorneys also say their client was recently diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a neurobiological disorder.