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22 Jan, 2009 04:16

Hacker tries to avoid extradition to U.S

Hacker Gary McKinnon has been given a possible lifeline in his attempts to stop extradition to the United States after being accused of damaging American military and space computers.

The High Court in London has granted a delay to allow British authorities time to consider trying McKinnon in the UK.

McKinnon, 42, says his Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, puts him at risk of suicide if he’s sent to America.

It seemed to be only a matter of days before Gary McKinnon was to find himself on a one-way transatlantic trip in the company of US Marshals. McKinnon expressed relief at the High Court’s decision.

“Yeah it was good, we didn’t get our adjournment which we were hoping for but the director of public prosecutions has barred the extradition in the meantime while he makes his decision. So overall it’s a good day – for a change it’s slightly good news,” McKinnon said.

The former system administrator faces seven charges of breaking into 97 US government, NASA and military systems between 2001 and 2002, allegedly causing $800,000 worth of damage.

McKinnon always admitted the deed but denies causing damage. He says he was only looking for evidence of UFOs, which he believes the US government is withholding from the public.

The hearing before two High Court judges on Tuesday was effectively put on ice in order to allow the director of public prosecutions to consider whether or not to bring a UK prosecution in response to a signed confession by McKinnon submitted last month.

McKinnon’s mother Janis Sharp says they have "four weeks from the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide and basically he’s our main hope.

“It’s the director of public prosecution who has written to his solicitor and said that he’s seriously considering and carefully considering allowing Gary to be tried in this country,” Sharp said.

Sharp has spent the past four years fighting for her son. If tried in the US, he could face up to 70 years in prison. If tried in the UK, he could be jailed for four years.

Pressure to halt Gary McKinnon’s extradition began building last year after he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome – a form of autism that causes obsessive behaviour and impairs social skills.

What most angers his supporters are the controversial terms of the extradition treaty between the UK and the US, according to which American prosecutors do not need to show evidence to secure extradition of British citizens.

“Why do we have fewer rights than the Americans; we deserve equal rights to the Americans; we have to provide evidence of probable cause if we want to extradite an American. They just have to make an allegation with no proof whatsoever to take a British citizen,” Sharp said.

All eyes are now on Washington. If incoming Obama-era officials in the US are less interested in the case, the prospects of Gary McKinnon being tried in the UK could improve.

After loosing every previous appeal, all that Gary McKinnon’s family can do for him now is to continue keeping the case in the public eye and not give up hope.