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The McKinnon Hack

On 15 December 2009, a photograph was taken of Janis Sharp, the mother of Gary McKinnon, and the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, outside the Home Office in Westminster. They were there to protest against the extradition of McKinnon, aged 44, to the US on charges of computer fraud. Eight years earlier McKinnon, an Asperger’s syndrome sufferer, had hacked repeatedly into Pentagon and NASA networks.

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Gary McKinnon, photo from www.theguardian.com

Opposition made adopting principled positions simpler. Clegg also stated that his personal view on the case remained unchanged – McKinnon should ideally be tried in a British court.

In 2001, McKinnon was living with his girlfriend, Tamsin, in a flat in north London. He was, says Sharp, depressed – without a regular job, and spending most of his time alone in a room, on his computer. It emerged on his arrest in 2002 that, using the name “Solo”, he had hacked into 97 US government computers between 2001 and 2002. His actions, according to US officials, caused networks to shut down, damaged computers and incurred costs of $800,000. McKinnon said he had been looking for evidence of UFOs, a childhood interest passed on from his stepfather, Wilson Sharp.

McKinnon was surprised at how easy it was to enter the US networks. There were no firewalls and many government staff did not even have passwords. He left notes as he went, pointing out security deficiencies.

Sharp readily accepts that what McKinnon did was wrong, but denies that he caused damage. (No firm evidence of damage was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service by US officials, and it is not clear any was gathered; a report says their accusations were based on “hearsay”.)

On 12 November 2002, six months after his arrest, McKinnon was indicted by the US government on eight counts of computer fraud. He remained at liberty until June 2005, when he was subjected to bail conditions – required to report to a police station every day and forbidden from using a computer. Later that year, the US began extradition proceedings that he and his supporters have been fighting ever since. McKinnon’s case now rests with the new Home Secretary, Theresa May.

May is specifically considering the medical evidence – the only grounds on which his extradition can be overturned. Courtesy of www.newstatesman.com

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