By Andrew Field
So, Gary McKinnon has lost his battle against extradition. He attempted this evasion of extradition on the grounds of his Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. It was argued that McKinnon’s extradition was ‘unnecessary, avoidable and disproportionate’ in light of his disease.
The crimes for which the United States government seek his extradition appear to have some substance prima facie. McKinnon is alleged to have hacked into critical military computer networks and caused damage. It is open to question, by the courts, as to just how much damage was done and to what extent people’s lives were placed in danger. It is sub judice. McKinnon does not deny the hacking.
What strikes me most about this case is the attempt by both his family and the media to pull the emotional strings concerning McKinnon’s apparent mental ill health. Computer hackers, uncannily, show a number of traits common to Asperger’s Syndrome, the more fundamental of these being difficulty in social interaction, stereotyping and being prone to repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests.
Can our dear hacker, McKinnon, go about the world, breaking into sensitive computer installations, causing damage, and then claim mental health issues with some impunity? Some might suggest an element of genius in McKinnon’s successes with the Pentagon systems, hacking them with a PC on a 56k modem! The plot thickens.
People have already risen to the ‘emotional’ bait on this issue and its worthy of a revisit. We need to examine whether a person who commits crimes against a foreign state should be protected by his homeland, and, if in fact mental illness at the time of the crime is a worthy defense against extradition or prosecution.
I will always remember the case of a magistrate sentencing a crippled criminal who had been found guilty of fraud, and whose custodial sentence would create hardships for his dysfunctional family. The issue was, back then, that the accused should have considered the consequences of his actions at the time of committing the offense.
Should not McKinnon have considered the consequences of his actions when he hacked into the ‘holy grail’ of hacking targets? Why has his extradition aroused so much sympathy?