McKinnnon, O’Dwyer and Assange – different strokes for different folks

There’s been a lot on various social media networks recently which links the extradition cases of Gary McKinnon, Richard O’Dwyer and Julian Assange. I don’t think this is actually as helpful or valid as it might seem at first glance.

Gary McKinnon, of course, has recently won his fight to avoid being extradited to the US on charges of hacking. I think that’s the right result, and I’m pleased that the Home Secretary has made that decision. However, I don’t think it’s quite the victory for justice that is being trumpeted.

Laywer and journalist David Allen Green makes a very strong case for the underlying justness of McKinnon’s extradition request. I’m not a lawyer, so I’m in no position to offer a detailed critique of Green’s argument, but it seems to me to be fundamentally sound. McKinnon’s actions meet all the criteria for extradition, including the fact that the victim was located in a different country and he was directly targetting them. The reason that McKinnon isn’t on his way to the US for trial isn’t because he committed no alleged offence against US interests, but because he has been deemed unfit to travel for trial on medical grounds.

As such, that’s not so much a victory for justice as a victory for mercy. I still think it’s the right decision, and I’m glad that McKinnon won his case. But it isn’t as clear-cut as some of his supporters suggest.

Having said that, I do agree that the UK is a more appropriate forum in which to prosecute McKinnon, and I hope that he is now prosecuted here. On the facts of the case as reported in the media, it does seem clear that he has probably committed an offence under the Computer Misuse Act, and this is something which needs to go before a court. The initial error made by the UK authorities was in not prosecuting the case straight away, and instead leaving it to the US to seek extradition. That should not have been allowed to happen.

Richard O’Dwyer’s case is entirely different. Although extradition is being sought by the US, there is very little evidence to suggest that any crime took place in the US. Even if a crime was committed at all (and there’s a very strong argument that it did not – at least one similar case in the UK resulted in a not guilty verdict), the mere fact that some US corporations were among the very many alleged victims does not give the US jurisdiction over the case. O’Dwyer’s crimes, if indeed they were crimes at all, were committed within the UK against a wide range of corporations all around the world. Why should the US be the one to prosecute? Why not Australia, or Japan, or China? Or, for that matter, the UK?

It seems clear to me that the appropriate forum for any prosecution of O’Dwyer is England, where his alleged offences took place. The fact that some alleged victims were from outside the UK does not, alone, make it suitable for extradition. To use an analogy (albeit a rather unpleasant one, but it’s the nearest I can think of at the moment), extraditing O’Dwyer to the US is like suggesting that, if and when he is found, the “Alps Massacre” killer should be prosecuted in the UK because some of his victims were British. That’s so obviously wrong that nobody would even dream of making that argument. The crime took place in France, and, if and when the perpetrator is caught, it will be prosecuted in France. O’Dyer’s alleged offences are considerably less serious than that, of course, but the same principle applies. His crime was committed in the UK, and the nationality of his victims doesn’t have any bearing on that.

Julian Assange’s case is different again. Unlike McKinnon and O’Dwyer, he was not in the UK when he committed the alleged offences. Nor were any of his victims British. He is alleged to have committed offences against Swedish nationals, on Swedish soil. There is, therefore, no question that Sweden is the appropriate jurisdiction for any prosecution. The UK has no interest in the case; no crime has been committed in British territory or against British victims.

The arguments, such as they are, against Assange’s extradition have nothing to do with where the alleged crimes were committed or which country has jurisdiction over them. I’m not going to address those arguments here, mainly because I consider them to have been so effectively refuted elsewhere already (Here’s David Allen Green, again, on the subject) that there’s little point in me doing so. But even those making them are not arguing that Assange should be prosecuted in the UK for rape and sexual assault. Their case is either that Assange should not be prosecuted at all, since he’s far too important to be prosecuted, or that he shouldn’t be extradited to Sweden to be prosecuted because if he is then Sweden will in turn extradite him to the US. The fact that those two arguments are themselves not entirely consistent is maybe a matter of note, but either way they are completely different arguments to those made by supporters of McKinnon and O’Dwyer. And I think that attempts by Assange’s supporters to try to link their man’s case to that of McKinnon are both disrespctful to Gary McKinnon and his family and a blatant attempt to blag some entirely undeserved sympathy by association. The sooner Julian Assange is facing his accusers in a Swedish court, the better.

Heroes and Villains of 2011

I’m assuming, of course, that no-one will do anything particularly heroic or villainous over the next couple of days. But here, in no particular order, are my nominations for ten heroes and ten villains of 2011.

Heroes

  • George Monbiot. When the green lobby was lathering itself up in a state of self-induced hysteria over Fukushima, George Monbiot coolly and calmly skewered their pretensions with a simple look at the facts. It takes courage to admit that you’ve changed your mind because the evidence doesn’t support your previous position; it takes even more courage to do so when you know that nearly all of your (former?) acolytes will disagree with you.
  • Phil Bradley. I have no idea who Phil Bradley is, other than the fact that he’s a regular user of WhatDoTheyKnow.com. But it was his FOI request to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in October 2010 which provided the single largest piece of evidence yet of how the previous government was willing to let its policy on copyright, the Internet and filesharing be written by the media industry.
  • Dan Thompson and Sam Duckworth. Between them, Sam and Dan instigated the #riotcleanup Twitter meme that brought thousands of people onto the streets of London and other cities to help clean the place up following the looting and violence in August.
  • Wendi Deng. While there has to be some question as to her motives (“Tell me, Ms Deng, what was it that first attracted you to the septuagenarian billionaire Rupert Murdoch?”), Wendi Deng stood by her man in dramatic fashion when her husband was attacked during a hearing of the phone hacking Select Committee.
  • Professor Ian Hargreaves. Author of the eponymous Hargreaves Report on intellectual property which not only included recommendations for common-sense changes to copyright, such as an exemption for format-shifting and non-commercial data mining, but also exposed the extent to which policymaking in the past has lacked evidential support.
  • Gary Speed. Not a hero in the conventional sense, since suicide – unless your name is Captain Oates – is far more often tragic than heroic, and Speed’s death was certainly a tragedy. But the realisation that depression can strike even the seemingly happy and successful is a lesson well learned.
  • The England Cricket Team. Retaining the Ashes in style and comprehensively outplaying India makes England officially the best cricket team in the world. And that’s the first time in my lifetime that I’ve been able to say that.
  • His Honour Judge Birss QC. In a judgment handed down in April, Judge Birss confirmed what we really knew already: Disgraced solicitor Andrew Crossley and his firm, ACS:Law, were “amateurish and slipshod”, responsible for “a series of errors and questionable conduct”, were “plainly negligent”, engaged in “improper conduct” and “brought the legal profession into disrepute”. That, in essence, is legalese for “Andrew Crossley is a lying crook who couldn’t be trusted to run a whelk stall”. But it isn’t just Crossley who has suffered; the judgment pretty much pre-empts any attempt by any other law firm to try a similar speculative invoicing scam.
  • Alastair Good and David Toba. Two journalists from the Daily Telegraph who shot the footage showing that most OccupyLSX tents were unoccupied at night, and were threatened with violence for doing so.
  • The Military Wives Choir. For beating this year’s dross from Simon’s Karaoke Show to the coveted Christmas number one spot.

I’ve excluded politicians from the list of heroes, on the grounds that any politician who does something good is only doing his or her job properly anyway. But, had I included them, there would have been mentions for David Lammy, for his intelligent and insightful comments into the riots, and David Cameron, for being prepared to stick his foot down over Europe.

Villains

  • Johann Hari. It may be a bit late to cast Johann Hari as a villain of 2011, when the things which cemented his villainy were mostly perpetrated in previous years. But 2011 was the year in which his duplicity and lies were exposed, so it’s this year that he makes the list.
  • Jonathan May-Bowles. A failed comedian who decided to use a Select Committee hearing for a bit of self-publicity, and in the process not only generated sympathy for his perceived opponent but also ensured that, in future, it’s going to be harder than ever for members of the public to attend committee hearings.
  • Jody McIntyre. It wasn’t a good year for Independent columnists, what with Johann Hari being exposed as a plagiarist and Jody McIntyre being summarily dismissed after posting calls on his blog for more people to join in the riots. But McIntyre isn’t just a villain in himself; the lack of any legal action against him – despite posting a clear incitement to violence – only highlights the absurdity of the prosecution of Paul Chambers.
  • Paul McMullan. The former News of the World journalist claimed that “Privacy is for paedos” and that hacking Milly Dowler’s phone was a good thing. For that, he’s in the villain’s list, but if his evidence brings down the tabloid media house of cards then maybe next year we’ll call him a hero. At least he’s being honest about it.
  • Piers Morgan. Unlike Paul McMullan, Morgan is quick to deny any involvement in phone hacking, despite having previously boasted of hearing private voicemails and then later apparently trying to blame the victim for it.
  • Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Mazhar Majeed. Three Pakistan international cricketers and their agent were jailed for their part in a match fixing conspiracy. It was a sour ending to what had otherwise been an excellent summer for the sport, at least from an English perspective.
  • Sepp Blatter. There’s something almost ironic about the fact that, despite presiding over an institutionally corrupt FIFA, the one thing that’s got up more people’s noses this year than anything else is Blatter’s laughable claim that football doesn’t have a problem with racism.
  • Julian Assange. The founder of Wikileaks was a hero, once. How times change. Accusations of rape and sexual molestation, an unauthorised autobiography which reveals him as a control freak who isn’t afraid of editing his own history for publicity purposes, a callous disregard for the lives of those exposed by the publication of intelligence material and, it seems, a petty and selfish destruction of material simply in order to spite former colleagues all add up to a rather unflattering portrait of someone who still thinks that he’s above the law. Incidentally, it’s beginning to look as though, far from Wikileaks simply being the recipient of material leaked by Bradley Manning, Assange actively incited Manning to obtain it and then turned his back on him after Manning was arrested. Bradley Manning has already suffered a catalogue of human rights violations, now we can add “being shafted by your inspirer and mentor” to them.
  • Cherith Hately. A self-proclaimed “IT Expert” who discovered that ISP-level filtering of porn and other undesirable things isn’t 100% reliable, and proceeded to make a fuss about it, resulting in some incredibly badly written news articles by uninformed journalists. Next year, Cherith will go on holiday in the woods and discover some stuff that looks suspiciously like bear excrement.
  • Simon Cowell. For doing what he always does.

My list of both heroes and villains is mostly focussed on the UK, with even the non-UK members having a UK connection. But, if I was looking at it from a more global perspective, the villains would also include President of Syria Bashar al-Assad and all the backers of the Stop Online Piracy Act.

Julian Assange: “I’ll blackmail News Corp”

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is reported as saying that he’s got loads of files on Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation. According to the Guardian:

Assange refers to these specific cables as “insurance files” that will be released “if something happens to me or to WikiLeaks”.

Frankly, that’s bollocks. If the material is in the public interest, then it needs to be released. By hanging on to it, Assange is just coming across as the silly little kid in the playground who goes around saying “I know a secret and I’m not going to tell you, nah nah nah”. On the other hand, if releasing the material isn’t in the public interest, then threatening to release it “if anything happens to me” is just plain blackmail.

Not for the first time, Julian Assange comes across in this incident as totally self-centred and self-serving. Wikileaks was (and still is) a good idea. But the value of Wikileaks is being lost behind the mountain of his ego.

At the heart of this is the fact that Julian Assange’s credibility is fading fast. If he wants to be taken seriously as a journalist and whistleblower, he needs to stop treating the material he holds as if it were his private property and start thinking about why people gave it to him in the first place. If he can’t do that, then he needs to stand down from Wikileaks and let someone with a better grasp of the public interest than he has. Or, to put it another way, it’s time for Assange to piss or get off the pot.