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U.K. Says Alleged Hacker Won’t Be Extradited to U.S.

U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May said Briton Gary McKinnon won’t be extradited to the U.S. over charges he hacked American military computers, risking a diplomatic rift.

“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 his human rights, May told lawmakers in London today. “I am therefore withdrawing the extradition order.”

McKinnon, who suffers from a form of autism, is accused of hacking into almost 100 computers and leaving a note on one that read: “U.S. foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days.” He has said he was writing a book and looking for evidence related to unidentified flying objects on U.S. computers.

McKinnon’s case has been among the most prominent cited by campaigners who argue that Britain’s 2003 extradition treaty with the U.S. is biased in favor of the American authorities.

“Mr. McKinnon is accused of serious crimes, but there is also no doubt that he is seriously ill,” May said. “He has Asperger’s Syndrome and suffers from depressive illness.”

Possible Charges

The U.K. put McKinnon’s case on hold in May 2010 to take account of his health. The director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, will now study whether McKinnon should face charges in the U.K., May said.

McKinnon was indicted by federal prosecutors in New Jersey and Virginia in 2002 for computer fraud and related activity. They alleged he gained access and made unauthorized changes to 97 computers belonging to the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics & Space Administration, and to six computers at private businesses.

The U.S. “is disappointed” the decision not extradite McKinnon, Rebekah Carmichael, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department, said today in a statement.

“We note that the Home Secretary has described this case as exceptional and, thus, this decision does not set a precedent for future cases,” said Carmichael, who added that the extradition relationship between the U.S. and the U.K “remains strong.”

May also announced a new “forum bar,” meaning that where prosecution is possible in both the U.K. and in another country, the British courts will be able to bar prosecution overseas.

Meanwhile, a bilateral protocol governing the approach of investigators and prosecutors in the U.K. and the U.S. is to be updated, May said.

Abu Hamza

She said arrangements between the two countries were working well, such as in the case of Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Islamic cleric accused of aiding the al-Qaeda terrorist group, who was flown to the U.S. this month after eight years of fighting extradition.

Civil-rights campaign group Liberty welcomed May’s decision.

“This is a great day for rights, freedoms and justice in the United Kingdom. The home secretary has spared this vulnerable man the cruelty of being sent to the U.S.,” Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty’s director, said in an e-mail. “Extradition should prevent fugitives escaping -- not allow for Britons like Gary to be parceled off around the world based on allegations of offenses committed here at home.”

May said yesterday Britain wants to opt out of more than 130 European Union policing and justice powers, threatening to fuel tensions in the coalition government. The government plans to use its right to stand apart from a block of European criminal-justice measures that were adopted before the EU’s 2007 Lisbon Treaty came into force, she said.

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