Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The trials of Gary McKinnon

In the UK, a man named Gary McKinnon is fighting departation to the US for “hacking” US military government and computer systems in 2001 and 2002. He’s in his forties, he has Asperger’s, and he’ facing up to 70 years in a US jail for something that would earn him a much lesser sentence anywhere else. Yet McKinnon committed his crimes while on British soil.

I’ll talk about his case today on Radio New Zealand National after the 11am news, as well as handing out a brickbat and a couple of bouquets. After the broadcast you’ll be able to download the audio as ogg or mp3.

Gary McKinnon – British computer programmer – the facts

  • Early 40s, originally from Glasgow although grew up in London
  • Accessed 97 US government and military computers in 2001/2, from Britain
  • Why: Claims it was to uncover evidence of UFOs – his activities in the computers seem to back this up
  • McKinnon doesn’t dispute that he accessed the computers. He says that they were open (i.e. default passwords) and that he just left messages saying how bad their security was.
  • US claims that he deleted some critical operating system files on some and caused $700,000 of damage
  • Tracked down to Britain, arrested in 2002
  • US announced it wanted to try him in the US “biggest military computer hack of all time”
  • In 2006 the Brits decided to allow extradition to the US
  • In the US could face 70 years, perhaps even in Gitmo
  • Since then a series of legal appeals including to the House of Lords and the European Court, and the UK Home Secretary
  • Wants to be tried in the UK. In the UK, still illegal but a far lesser penalty.
  • Has been diagnosed with Aspergers by none other than Simon Baron-Cohen or Cambridge
  • Still appealing but his chances look slim.
  • A lot of public support – 80MPs calling for prison to be served in UK. List of luminaries, Sting, Boris Johnson, Bob Geldof, Terry Waite, the LibDems. Daily Mail running a campaign. Some people believe he was entrapped.


  • Do not tweak the military’s nose. Even if you think they are stupid. They have a lot to lose by being made to look stupid.
  • The guy is clearly not on the same planet as the rest of us – UFOs, “Free energy”
  • That’s what this is about and the UK government shouldn’t be letting the US military get away with it. Let’s have a bit of humanity
  • Compare with Knox / Kercher case – 26 yrs for murder.
  • Change law if necessary
  • By all means try the man but do it in his home jurisdiction


Gary McKinnonevil hacker or confused Asperger’s sufferer?

posted by colin at 8:23 pm  

1 Comment

  1. Mat

    Feel free to explain why you disagree with me. However, just providing abuse will get your comment deleted.


    Comment by colin — 18 December 2009 @ 5:51 pm

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