A self-taught British hacker who broke into 97 US military computers from his north London bedsit will be extradited to the United States after losing his six-year legal fight in the House of Lords.
Gary McKinnon, 42, a systems analyst from Wood Green, faces up to 70 years in an American prison if convicted for the 2001 attack that US prosecutors have described as "the biggest military hack of all time."
His lawyers have vigorously fought against the extradition request, arguing that Mr McKinnon should be tried in Britain because he committed the crime on UK soil. They also fear that US prosecutors are trying to make an example out of him and may incarcerate him in Guantanamo Bay as an "enemy combatant" because his hack targeted military systems.
Five law lords dismissed his plea yesterday, exhausting the Glasgow-born hacker's legal options in British courts. Only a "stay" on proceedings from the European Court of Human Rights can stop the extradition.
In his judgment, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood rejected the suggestion that the US legal system would be unduly harsh on Mr McKinnon or that the American authorities had been threatening him by offering plea bargains that could reduce his sentence.
"The difference between the American system and our own is not perhaps so stark as the appellant's argument suggests," he said. "It is difficult to think of anything other than the threat of unlawful action which could fairly be said so to imperil the integrity of the extradition process as to require the accused to be discharged irrespective of the strength of the case against him."
Mr McKinnon has said he was simply a "bumbling computer nerd" who spent hours testing the American military's security network in his attempt to find evidence of UFOs.