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McKinnon heads for the last chance saloon

Pentagon hacker's final appeal

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Accused Pentagon hacker Gary McKinnon is approaching his own D-Day, with his fate due to be sealed in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The Court represents McKinnon's last chance of avoiding extradition to the US to face charges of hacking into military and NASA systems, following the rejection of his appeal by the House of Lords last month.

McKinnon's complaint to the court rests on the "conditions of detention he would face if convicted" in the US. These are slightly different grounds than his failed appeal to the House of Lords, which depended on allegations that US authorities overstepped the mark during plea-bargaining negotiations.

The seven judge chamber in Strasbourg will decide on Thursday whether to let McKinnon's appeal to go forward and whether they or a 17 Judge Grand Chamber will assess its merits. Only written submissions will be considered, at this stage at least. If the court does nothing then the temporary injunction preventing the extradition of McKinnon will expire at midnight on Friday.

McKinnon allegedly hacked into 97 US government and military systems between 2001 and 2002, creating disruption that left the network of the Naval Weapons Station, Earle, New Jersey, unavailable for a week. The 42-year-old London-based Scot admits hacking but disputes US damage assessments.

He said he broke into networks in order to search for evidence that the US was suppressing evidence of UFO technologies and encounters with extraterrestrials - US authorities saw it differently, claiming that he carried out the biggest military hack ever.

By his own account, McKinnon was obsessive in his interests and high on cannabis for much of the time, and made the mistake of engaging in conversation with a US government worker who discovered he was remotely accessing a desktop.

Lawyers for the unemployed former sysadmin have consistently argued that he ought to be tried in the UK. US authorities are having none of that, largely (one suspects) because previous attempts to prosecute alleged hackers in UK courts have failed to result in conviction.

McKinnon's long running campaign against extradition has aroused sympathy, largely because US authorities have used a rather large hammer to crack a small "nut"1 - US authorities have been seeking to extradite McKinnon since June 2005. ®

1McKinnon's eclectic interests are certainly 'out there' but similar to those of Muse frontman Matt Bellamy, for example. The Scot's tragedy is that he took to exploring his interests through hacking rather than penning bombastic rock tunes such as Time Is Running Out and Hysteria.

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