A British man accused by the United States of "the biggest military hack of all time" lost an appeal on Thursday and could be extradited to the United States within weeks.
Gary McKinnon, 42, had asked the European Court of Human Rights to block his extradition, complaining that he could face inhumane prison conditions if convicted there. He took his case to the court after losing an appeal to the British House of Lords last month.
By rejecting the appeal, the human rights court paved the way for McKinnon to come to the United States, where he faces up to 70 years if convicted. He is accused of hacking his way into computers at the Pentagon, NASA and the U.S. Army and Navy in 2001 and 2002, causing a reported $700,000 worth of damage.
Attorney Karen Todner, who is representing McKinnon, told Reuters McKinnon and his family are distraught. She said her client would now appeal to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to try to persuade her to reconsider an earlier decision and prosecute her client in the United Kingdom.
"Failing that he will be extradited...probably within the next three weeks," Todner added.
She said her client had recently been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and hoped Smith would take this information into account. McKinnon told Reuters in 2006 he was just a computer nerd who wanted to find out whether aliens really existed and became obsessed with trawling large military networks for proof.
His lawyers have argued that sending him to the United States would breach his human rights because he could be prosecuted on account of his nationality or political opinions.
Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant with Sophos, said a poll of IT professionals conducted in 2006 found that more than half were against extraditing him, mostly because they did not feel he had malicious intent.
"There is a feeling in much of the IT community that McKinnon is being treated as a scapegoat by the U.S. authorities, that because he was arrested shortly after 9/11 that the U.S. agencies felt that they had to send out a strong message that hacking was not going to be tolerated-and so they appear to have been aiming to come down on him like a ton of bricks," he said.
"The strong message is if you mess with a U.S. military computer, expect them to be ruthless in their pursuit of you," he continued. "We've seen other hackers in the past compromise military PCs and receive significant jail sentences. Hackers need to wake up to the serious consequences of their illegal actions-whether they are motivated by finding E.T. or stealing credit card numbers."
Reuters contributed to this report.