British hacker will be extradited to US for trial

A British hacker who broke into 97 military and NASA computer systems -- looking, he claims, for evidence about UFOs -- will be tried in America, where if convicted he may face a sentence of up to 70 years. Gary McKinnon has been appealing in the British judicial system to avoid extradition to these shores.

Mr. McKinnon doesn't deny that he hacked into the computers in 2001-02, but has stated that he wasn't attempting to compromise US security but to find secret information on unidentified flying objects -- a particular obsession for the 43-year-old man, who has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. He asked instead for trial in the UK, stating that trial and incarceration in the US could be highly debilitating due to his condition.

Mr. McKinnon's activities began in February of 2001 and continued until March of the following year, when he was first questioned by law-enforcement officials about his hacking efforts. Several of his incursions caused significant trouble, including a hack that knocked several hundred computers at a naval station in New Jersey offline immediately after 9/11. A New Jersey district court issued a warrant for Mr. McKinnon in October of 2002, and extradition efforts began in late 2004. In February of this year, UK officials announced that they would not pursue charges against Mr. McKinnon in Britain.

The Free Gary web site, which has ben the locus of much of the anti-extradition effort, was offline as of Friday morning. Meanwhile, Janis Sharp, Mr. McKinnon's mother, is reported to have made a personal appeal to President Obama to intercede.

A poll of 550 IT professionals conducted over the past two months by Sophos, the anti-malware firm, finds that 71% of those asked do not think that Mr. McKinnon should be extradited. That's up from just 52% three years ago.

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