Britain's Crown Prosecution Service has announced it will not prosecute NASA hacker Gary McKinnon in the UK.
McKinnon says he would plead guilty to an offence under the UK's Computer Misuse Act if he could stay in the country. He faces extradition to the US for trial in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, where he was indicted in November 2002.
His charges include illegally accessing and damaging US government computers. The US government alleges his exploits cost at least US$700,000 and caused the shutdown of critical military networks shortly after the 11 September, 2001, terrorist attacks.
McKinnon could face a sentence of 60 years or more.
The IT community is largely sympathetic. Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos said, "The IT community is showing a lot of sympathy for his plight, and today's news will come as a blow. The real question is should we really be making such an example of a guy who was apparently just a UFO conspiracy theory nut? There's a danger that McKinnon is being used as a whipping-boy by a country embarrassed about the poor security of its computers in the months after 9/11."
McKinnon is also fighting his case and appealing extradition on another issue. He has recently been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterised by obsessive behaviour and deficiencies in social interaction.
However, the US has always wanted to maintain jurisdiction of the case. UK prosecutors agreed in 2002 to cede jurisdiction since the harm occurred inside the US, most witnesses are there and the bulk of evidence was in that country.
McKinnon's law firm, Kaim Todner, said that prosecutors made the decision not to prosecute, leaving him subject to extradition, before even asking the US for evidence.
McKinnon used a program called "RemotelyAnywhere" to control US military computers, many of which only used default passwords, which made them easy to access. He claims to have hacked the system looking for evidence of UFOs.
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