What next for Gary McKinnon?
For the man at the centre of today's extradition drama, the announcement that he will not be facing a trial in the United States is the first glimmer of hope Gary McKinnon has received since he was first arrested in February 2002 on hacking charges.
For the past ten years he has been virtually housebound and cut of from the outside world. Friends say the former hacker has been consumed by the threat of extradition to the point where it ha dominated his life. “It's all he's ever been able to think about for the last ten years,” one said. "Now there's a light at the end of the tunnel."
Under a court order he has been forbidden from accessing any computers for the duration of his legal fight. It's a rather sobering thought to consider that when Mr McKinnon was last online, Twitter didn't exist, the iPhone was still in Apple's R&D labs and broadband internet had only just become available.
Many cyber security experts often advocate for low level hackers to be rehabilitated and hired by governments to defend their networks rather than be imprisoned. Even if Mr McKinnon was offered a job in the cyber industry, he would have to catch up on ten years worth of technological development.
With the extradition proceedings halted McKinnon, now 46, will have to wait to hear whether the Director for Public Prosecutions decides to bring a separate case against him in Britain. Doing so would likely only be possible if US prosecutors hand over vital evidence of his intrusion – though McKinnon no longer denies doing the crime he is accused of. Nonetheless he will soon be afforded a level of personal freedom that has been denied to him for the last ten years.
It's unlikely he'll make much of a song and dance about that new found freedom. With his mother Janis at the forefront of the campaign to keep him in the country, the former computer hacker is rarely seen in public. The Independent interviewed him in 2008, one of the few times he chose to meet with the press. His Aspergers had yet to be diagnosed but he came across as a polite, if somewhat socially uncomfortable, computer geek with a fascination for conspiracy theories and extra-terrestrial life.
Since then his mental health has rapidly deteriorated. His Aspergers diagnosis has helped him and his family understand the near obsessional determination he pursued hacking and seek treatment. But the constant threat of extradition has taken its toll. A recent medical report by three Home Office appointed psychiatrists warned that his severe depression meant it was very likely Mr McKinnon would attempt suicide if he was sent to the United States.
His mother Janis Sharpe described the effect the last ten years had had on her son. “It's been so hard,” she said. “People don't realise it's the only thing on your mind, there's nothing else in your life. He's lost 10 years of his youth. He just sits there. He's scared, he can't go out because people recognise him. He sits in the dark with his two cats. I just hope that this is the end in a positive way and he gets time to recover.”
Her son may now be safe from extradition to the United States, but he still has a long way to go before normal life can resume.
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