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Judges define scope of McKinnon appeal

Arguing a legal point again

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Accused Pentagon hacker Gary McKinnon's final appeal against extradition edged forward on Tuesday after judges defined the two points that might merit consideration by the Law Lords.

The Administrative Court (one of the High Courts) certified two questions of being of public importance in the McKinnon case. The first point ise the status of a diplomatic note confirming that Mr McKinnon will not be treated as a terrorist under military jurisdiction and the conduct of the US government in plea bargaining negotiations.

The second is the claim that the US tried to twist McKinnon's arm by saying if he failed to cop a plea and submit to voluntary extradition he would lose the opportunity to be repatriated and serve part of his sentence in the UK.

The House of Lords is not bound to consider McKinnon's final appeal - for example it declined to hear the appeal of the NatWest Three bankers. Tuesday's development clarifies the topics to be explored if the Lords decide to hear McKinnon's case.

After losing an appeal in the High Court last month, only the Law Lords now stand between McKinnon and a US trial for allegedly breaking into and damaging 97 US government computers between 2001 and 2002. McKinnon caused an estimated $700,000 worth of damage, in what US authorities have described as the "biggest military" computer hack ever.

The former sys admin, who lives in London, admits he infiltrated computer systems without permission but disputes the seriousness US authorities attach to his attacks. The 41-year-old said he gained access to military networks - using a Perl script to search for default passwords - but describes himself as a bumbling amateur motivated by curiosity about evidence of UFOs rather than a cyberterrorist. ®

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