LONDON Home Secretary Alan Johnson said on Tuesday he could not stop the extradition of a man wanted in the United States for hacking into NASA and Pentagon computers, but said he was considering granting extra time for a judicial review of the case.
Johnson told the House of Commons he was considering an appeal by Gary McKinnon's lawyers to extend the 7-day period they have to apply for a judicial review.
McKinnon, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, could also apply to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg within 14 days of the decision.
"As I have said at every stage of these proceedings, we will not commence extradition proceedings until all legal avenues Mr McKinnon wants to pursue have been exhausted," Johnson said.
McKinnon was arrested in 2002 after U.S. prosecutors charged him with illegally accessing computers, including at the Pentagon and NASA, and causing $700,000 worth of damage.
The U.S. Army's entire network of more than 2,000 computers in Washington was shut down for 24 hours in what U.S. authorities called "the biggest military hack of all time."
But his lawyers argued that extraditing McKinnon would be detrimental to his health.
The High Court had accepted that his extradition could have consequences for his health, but judges ruled that the process of the law overruled those concerns.
The appeal then went to the Home Office.
Johnson said Britain had sought and received assurances from the U.S. authorities that his health needs would be met.
But McKinnon's lawmaker, David Burrowes, accused the Interior Secretary of being "spineless," pointing to concerns about McKinnon's possible suicidal tendencies.
"How ill and vulnerable does Gary McKinnon need to be to not to be extradited to the United States?" Burrowes asked.
In October, McKinnon was refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.
McKinnon's lawyers describe him as a "UFO eccentric" who used the Internet to search for alien life.
If he is convicted by a U.S. court, McKinnon could face up to 70 years in prison.
(Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Keith Weir)