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Books change the world

Recently I read Cory Doctorow's Little Brother - a sort of young adult, rather less scary, 1984 for the millennium, with the emphasis on digital freedoms. It's set in the near future in a USA made yet more paranoid by a major terrorist attack in San Francisco. Full of interesting, big and important ideas about liberty and adulthood and privacy (plus, the only fiction I think I've ever read that explains public/private key encryption!).

It's a young adult title, but don't let that put you off, I think it's something that lots and lots of people should read.

Anyway, I found afterwards that my world view had changed a bit. I'd come across Gary Mckinnon's story previously: he's a UFO enthusiast with Asberger's syndrome. As UFO enthusiasts will, he thought the US government knew more than it was saying about little green men. As autistic people sometimes will, he was clever and persistent and wouldn't let it lie and went squirrelling his way virtually into the Pentagon to have a look.

He's now facing extradition to the USA under terrorism laws, where he could get up to 70 years in jail, and where fear of terrorism is likely to see him face some fairly rough treatment.

I wasn't sure what I thought about this. OK, he's not a terrorist, but he did hack the Pentagon, and you can see why people would get het up about that. And OK, the USA is not the most liberal country in the world, but there are probably worse places to be extradited to - though the fact that they can extradite our nutters, and we can't extradite theirs is very much an uncomfortable feeling. And I did feel that a certain amount of the celebrities rallying in defence was down to Gary McKinnon being a nice middle class white boy.

I came across his Mum on Twitter today,and discovered that my view had changed.  He's not a terrorist. He's a bloke who is a nerd, and, let's face it, a bit of a nut, with more technical skill than common sense, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't be considered as an individual and deserving of defence by his own government.  And if the nice white boys get treated this way, god help the inquisitive hacker of Pakistani descent who has neither colour nor disability to defend him. 

If an American nerd hacked, say, M16, we wouldn't be able to extradite him. He'd be tried under the law where the crime was committed. But the USA can demand British citizens that have committed a crime in Britain be handed over. It's not fair or right, and it seems like this is being demanded because people at the Pentagon have been embarrassed rather than because there is a need.

This news story explains the background : http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/c...icle5505489.ece

Website is here. http://www.londontv.net/latestnews.html

No. 10 petition is here: http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/mckinnon09/ - I've signed it.

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
the_marquis
1st Jun, 2009 11:25 (UTC)
I think the key point, as you point out and as his mum says, is that this treaty is ridiculously one-sided.

WTF? Which administration thought that was a good and fair treaty (other than the yanks)?
bunn
1st Jun, 2009 11:40 (UTC)
I'm not sure that is the key point to me. For me, the stuff about protecting your citizens and considering intent and results is quite important.

In other words, even if the treaty were reciprocal, I don't think I'd be for it.
the_marquis
1st Jun, 2009 17:40 (UTC)
I think protecting your citizens comes under the need for treaties like this to be balanced, hence my thinking that we were talking on the same lines. Although maybe you're thinking of 'protection' with regard to the US thoughts about his intents and punishing him.

Certainly I think a free and fair trial would show that his intentions were not as the US Givernement are claiming. I suspect based on what the papers are saying that his intent was not to 'carry out terrorism' but to hunt for UFO evidence, however I don't have the trial bumpf or testimonials so ...

(I also think that you're right that a non-white might not get this level of sympathy)

I aso suspect that even if the treaty was balanced we still wouldn't get anyone back from the US, viz Philo's comment

Edited at 2009-06-01 17:42 (UTC)
helflaed
1st Jun, 2009 12:15 (UTC)
Surely you realise that International Law is whatever the Americans say it is?
philmophlegm
1st Jun, 2009 13:09 (UTC)
While the extradition treaty supposedly enacted as part of the war on terror allows the US government to ask for autistic hackers to be extradited and get British bankers extradited for a crime committed against a British company, actual IRA terrorists actually convicted of actual terrorist crimes that actually have killed actual people cannot be extradited.

The US government has a definition of a 'terrorist nation' as one that either practices or funds terrorism or shelters terrorists. But it never applies that definition to itself.
king_pellinor
1st Jun, 2009 19:45 (UTC)
Bear in mind also that, IIRC, what he didn't wasn't illegal under the UK laws of the time.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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