A British court ruled on Friday that a man who hacked into US military computers can seek a new hearing in his battle to avoid extradition.
Lord Justice Maurice Kay said the fact that Gary McKinnon had been diagnosed recently with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, merits further consideration. He agreed to permit McKinnon’s lawyers to present arguments at a hearing in March that will determine if he gets a chance to formally appeal the extradition.
US prosecutors say McKinnon, 42, broke into 97 computers belonging to NASA, the US Department of Defense and several branches of the military from a bedroom in a north London home, causing nearly US$1 billion in damage.
McKinnon said he was looking for evidence of Unidentified Flying Objects and only succeeded in his hack because of lax security.
His lawyers said McKinnon he is likely to become suicidal if he is removed to the US away from family and familiar surroundings.
His attorney Karen Todner said British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith did not consider these risks properly when she ruled in October that the extradition should proceed.
US officials say McKinnon’s hacking — which took place soon after the Sept. 11 attacks on the US — shut down the US Army district responsible for protecting Washington and cleared logs from computers at Naval Weapons Station Earle in New Jersey, which tracks the location and battle-readiness of US Navy ships.
McKinnon was caught in 2002 when investigators traced software used in the attacks to his girlfriend’s e-mail account. If he is extradited, he will face trial on eight charges of computer fraud.
Each count could bring a sentence of 10 years in prison and a US$250,000 fine, but US prosecutors have said he would likely receive a much lighter sentence.
McKinnon’s lawyers had argued that any alleged offense that took place in Britain should be tried in Britain, but British and European courts have so far rejected repeated legal attempts to prevent his extradition.