ritish hacker can challenge US extradition

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LONDON, Oct 22 (Reuters) A British computer expert, accused by Washington of ''the biggest military hack of all time'', was today given permission to take his fight against extradition to the United States to Britain's highest court.

Gary McKinnon was arrested in 2002 after US prosecutors charged him with illegally accessing government computers -- including Pentagon, US army, navy and NASA systems -- causing 700,000 dollars worth of damage.

A district court ruled in May 2006 that he should be extradited, a decision upheld at London's High Court in April this year. But three of Britain's top judges today gave McKinnon permission to take his case to the House of Lords.

McKinnon's lawyers argue that sending him to the United States would breach his human rights, be an abuse of the English court process and should be barred as his extradition was sought ''for the purpose of prosecuting him on account of his nationality or political opinions''.

Between February 2001 and March 2002, using his own computer in London, McKinnon gained unauthorised access to 97 computers belonging to and used by the US government.

He is accused of causing the entire US Army's Military District of Washington network of more than 2,000 computers to be shut down for 24 hours.

At the time of his indictment, Paul McNulty, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said: ''Mr McKinnon is charged with the biggest military computer hack of all time.'' In an interview with Reuters last year, McKinnon said he was just a computer nerd who wanted to find out whether aliens and UFOs really existed.

If found guilty in the United States, McKinnon could face up to 70 years in jail and fines of up to 1.75 million dollars.

REUTERS SG RK1938

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