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British UFO hacker's supporters rally at U.S embassy in London

Gary McKinnon's mother, six others back his effort to avoid being extradited to the U.S.

By Jeremy Kirk
April 2, 2009 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - As protesters again took to the streets of London today in connection with the G20 summit of world leaders, a much smaller rally in support of British hacker Gary McKinnon took place outside the U.S. embassy in the city.

McKinnon, a 43-year-old London resident, was indicted on hacking charges in November 2002 in a U.S. District Court in Virginia, after he admittedly broke into computers belonging to the U.S. military and NASA. He was arrested by London police four years ago and has lost numerous efforts to block his extradition since then. But he is drawing increasing support from politicians and celebrities who don't want him to be sent to the U.S. to face trial.

At today's rally, McKinnon's mother, Janis Sharp, and six other demonstrators performed a rewritten version of "Chicago," a protest song recorded nearly 40 years ago by Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fame. Nash granted Sharp permission to modify the song's lyrics to focus on her son's legal plight as well as his autism.

Nash is one of several high-profile musicians who have gotten involved in the effort to stop the extradition of McKinnon, who could face as many as 70 years in prison if convicted on the seven counts of computer-related fraud he was charged with. Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and Sting, lead singer and bassist for the Police, have also expressed their support for McKinnon.

Although McKinnon has publicly admitted to hacking into government and military computers in the U.S. over a two-year period, he maintains that he was merely looking for evidence of UFOs and not trying to cause any damage to the systems.

However, the U.S. government alleges that while engaging in the hacking activities during 2001 and 2002, McKinnon did $900,000 worth of damage to computers in 14 states and caused the shutdown of critical military networks shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. According to federal prosecutors, McKinnon deleted critical files on the systems he hacked and copied usernames and passwords that he discovered.

British authorities are pouring more money and police efforts into fighting cybercrime. But McKinnon's hacking activities appear to be widely regarded as harmless within the U.K., and his supporters say the U.S. is pushing too hard to punish him for what he did.

"It has been seven years now," said Johnnie Smith, a friend of McKinnon's who attended today's rally. "It's tormenting the family. It's time to move on."

McKinnon didn't attend the rally, which also fell on World Autism Awareness Day, an event designated by the United Nations. Sharp said her son, who now is fighting extradition on the basis that he has Asperger's Syndrome, has been deeply depressed. "When a knock comes on the door, he's afraid they're going to drag him off," she said.

After using a series of legal challenges to postpone his extradition, McKinnon is awaiting a judicial review of the extradition order by the U.K.'s High Court of Justice. The review is scheduled to take place on June 9 and 10 in London.

Asperger's is a neurological disorder related to autism that's characterized by obsessive behavior and deficiencies in social interaction. One of McKinnon's legal arguments is that because of his medical condition, he isn't fit to stand trial in the U.S.

He said previously that he would plead guilty to an offense under the U.K.'s Computer Misuse Act if he could remain in that country. But British authorities announced in February that they wouldn't prosecute McKinnon because of a 2002 agreement in which jurisdiction over the case was ceded to the U.S.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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