British Hacker McKinnon Wins Long Fight Against Extradition to U.S.

Gary McKinnon will not face extradition to the United States on charges of hacking military computers, according to a decision by Britain's home secretary. British authorities must now decide if he will face charges in the U.K.

A British man accused of hacking U.S. government computer systems finally won a long-running legal battle against extradition.

Gary McKinnon, 46, had been fighting extradition to the United States for 10 years, going back to his arrest in London in 2002 for hacking Pentagon and NASA computers. British Home Secretary Theresa May said she considered medical evidence that McKinnon has Asperger Syndrome and suffers from depressive illness before making her decision.

"After careful consideration of all of the relevant material, I have concluded that Mr. McKinnon's extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr. McKinnon's human rights," she said in a statement. "I have therefore withdrawn the extradition order against Mr. McKinnon. It will now be for the director of public prosecutions to decide whether Mr. McKinnon has a case to answer in a UK court."

McKinnon's battle to stay in the U.K. has attracted a great deal of attention in the IT community, with some being vocal in their support for McKinnon. A poll of 550 IT professionals by security vendor Sophos in 2009 found that 71 percent of respondents believed McKinnon should not be extradited to the United States.

In 2006, McKinnon described himself to Reuters in an interview as a computer nerd who became obsessed with finding out whether aliens existed and began hacking military computers in search of proof. Janice Sharp, McKinnon's mother, told the media her son was so emotional he could not speak when he heard the news. She also praised May's decision not to send McKinnon to the United States.

“To stand up to another nation as strong and powerful as America is rare and she had the guts to do it,” she said, according to The Telegraph.

"He doesn't travel abroad, he doesn't go on holiday, he very rarely leaves north London, and to be taken from everything you know, your family, everything, thousands of miles away is so terrifying to him."

U.S. authorities have in the past called McKinnon's actions as "the biggest military computer hack of all time," and put the price tag for damages at around $900,000. In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department voiced disapproval with the decision.

"The United States is disappointed by the decision to deny Gary McKinnon's extradition to face long overdue justice in the United States," the spokesperson said.

In addition to the ruling on McKinnon, May also announced that she would create a "forum bar" to block prosecutions overseas "in the interests of justice."

"A key reason for the loss of public and parliamentary confidence in our extradition arrangements has been the perceived lack of transparency in the process," she said. "I believe extradition decisions must not only be fair, they must be seen to be fair, and they must be made in open court, where decisions can be challenged and explained."

Editor's Note: eWEEK revised this article to show the correct title for British Home Secretary Theresa May.