Whether Gary McKinnon ends up being tried in the US or the UK, I think either government would do well to take their cues regarding his inevitable punishment - and possible rehabilitation - from the case of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr.:
Between the ages of 16 and 21, Abagnale wrote $2.5 million in bogus checks, and collected an additional $40,000 by printing his bank account number on blank deposit slips and then inserting them back into the stack of blank deposit slips at the bank.
He posed as a Pan Am pilot for two years, flying all over the world for free on other airlines, while his food, lodgings, etc. were being billed entirely to Pan Am.
He posed as a doctor, and was employed for a year as the Supervising Chief Resident of a Georgia hospital.
He posed as a Harvard Law School graduate, studying for and passing the Louisiana Bar Exam over the course of a few weeks, and then working for a year as an attorney in the Louisiana Attorney General's office.
Abagnale did serve about 6 years in prison for his crimes: 6 months in France (where, due to the squalid conditions, he almost died of malnutrition and pneumonia), 6 months in Sweden, a very short time (apparently) in the Federal Detention Center in Atlanta, from which he escaped while awaiting trial, and less than five years of a 12-year term in a US federal prison, due to being paroled by the US government in 1974 on condition that he would, without pay, help federal authorities catch other con artists.
Considering the extent of his crimes and the fact that, at one point, 26 countries were trying to extradite him, it's a miracle that Abagnale was only imprisoned for about 6 years, much less that, after his release, he managed to craft a remarkably successful life for himself, both personally and professionally.
In case you're unfamiliar with the rest of his story, here's a short bio, a long bio, and the gist:
At some point during his first year of parole, it occurred to him to approach a bank with an offer to speak to the bank's staff and show them the various tricks that 'paperhangers' use to defraud banks. He told the bank that if they didn't find his speech helpful, they'd owe him nothing; but if they did find it helpful, they'd owe him $50 and would be obliged to recommend his services to other banks. Thus began his legitimate life as a security consultant.
He later founded Abagnale & Associates, which advises the business world on fraud, and organizes lecture tours. Working as a security consultant, Abagnale earned enough money to pay back everyone he'd defrauded during his 6-year crime spree, including the $2.5 million in bad checks he passed.
In addition to his considerable earnings as a security consultant, Abagnale has also made over $20 million from his books:
His biography, Catch Me If You Can: The True Story of a Real Fake (Book, Amazon US & UK; Audio CD, Amazon US; movie adaptation, DVD widescreen, Amazon US & UK, or DVD fullscreen, special edition, Amazon US),
The Art of the Steal: How to Protect Yourself and Your Business from Fraud, America's #1 Crime (Amazon US & UK), and
Stealing Your Life: The Ultimate Identity Theft Prevention Plan, available April 24, 2007 (Amazon US & UK, with the CD-ROM version coming in May (Amazon UK).
I don't know if Gary McKinnon has it in him to become the hacker version of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr., but considering his age, the yearly cost of federal imprisonment, and the US government's obvious need of his help in the area of computer security, I'd say either government owes it to their taxpayers to give him a go at it.
If the alleged hacker is under reasonable suspicion, he should be prosecuted like anyone else. I don't see what the difference is, whether he did this by means of internet, or by means of fire, brimstone, or sledgehammer.
Theft is theft, Fraud is fraud, Destruction is destruction.
Why should "hackers" be treated differently from other common criminals ?
Failure is not an option -- it comes bundled with Windows
>>If the alleged hacker is under reasonable suspicion, he should be prosecuted like anyone else.
For the record, I didn't say McKinnon shouldn't be prosecuted, nor did I say he shouldn't be punished. Although he denies doing $70,000 worth of damage in the process, McKinnon has admitted that he hacked the computers in question.
>>Why should "hackers" be treated differently from other common criminals?
Despite McKinnon's claim that he could tell that many people from various countries were hacking the same computers he was hacking, statistically, as well as in other ways, hacking the US government's computers isn't exactly a commonplace crime.
A teenaged Abagnale's $2.5 million check-kitting spree, etc., wasn't commonplace either. If Abagnale had been left to rot in prison instead of being put to work catching other 'paperhangers', the $5 million (or so) that he stole would never have been repaid, and much more would doubtlessly have been stolen by the con men he helped to catch during his 6 years of probationary work for the government. Not to mention the money he's saved banks and other businesses during his 30+ years as a security consultant.
To quote a couple of lines from the movie, Seabiscuit (ironically found in a pdf titled 'American Values through Film' at this url - http://moscow.usembassy.gov/files/Seabis...): You don't throw a whole life away 'cause it's just banged up a little. Sometimes all somebody needs is a second chance.
If, like Abagnale, McKinnon is allowed to spend 6 or 7 years of probationary time fixing the government computers' security flaws - who knows - his efforts could conceivably prevent all sorts of disasters.
After reading Kat's excellent argument, I can add nothing further other than agree with her wholeheartedly. Very well written, Kat; thoughtful, sensitive, and sensible. Three words that unfortunately can't be associated with the American legal system these days.
I remember the first famous hacker case from way back in the 1980s. An Australian kid was found guilty of hacking into the American military, government and NASA systems. Not for malicious reasons, he was just addicted to hacking. There was a great documentary filmed about his hacking exploits, I'll see if I can track it down and post it to the video section. This kid wasn't left to rot in prison, but instead was given the chance to use his talents for legal purposes, and he still works to this day in the security business.
Yes, McKinnon did the crime, but far more can be gained by working with him, not against him.
Well, also "for the record", my point is that McKinnon should be tried in a court of law. I don't know if he should be convicted, that decision has to wait until the trial. If he ends up being convicted, he should be punished according to the severity of his crimes. So I don't think that I disagree much with Kat's point of view.
However I do disagree with a popular view that hackers who destroy things for no good reason are lovable artistic kids, and their talents should be put to good purpose. There are many equally talented people, not bent on destruction or fraud. These honest professional people deserve a good job protecting computer networks, in preference to destructive hackers.
Instead, many companies hire cheap amateurs to design and operate their networks. Then, after someone exploits the resulting security holes, the companies hire some well-known criminal, to make it look like they improved their security.
So my beef here is not with McKinnon, it is with the companies who don't take the security of their networks seriously enough to hire professionals in the first place.
Failure is not an option -- it comes bundled with Windows
I notice not one of you pointed out whether the courts should be concerned with what he claims to have found. If he's telling the truth aren't the authorities the ones who should be going to jail for lying to the people of the world? Why are we so concerned about a hacker when there are plenty of other people we could and should be examining for crimes.
Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
I dare say, we'd all like to know the details of what McKinnon found -- along with the details of anything he failed to find. For one thing, both would probably go a long way toward explaining why both governments apparently want to bury him.
It's not that we aren't curious, or that we haven't long-suspected that the governments' withholding of technology (and other information) probably amount to 'crimes against humanity'. It's just that these aspects of the situation weren't included in the Poll.
As he has not been charged or convicted of an offence in the UK, he cannot be set free. However once he arrives in America, that will be a different matter.
My opinion is that they should reward him for exposing the defects in their security...
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