Gary McKinnon: Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome as a Legal Defense for Hacking and Breaching Security?

legal defense for hacking
Is autism the best new way to knock-down hacking charges?
Could Asperger’s and Autism become a legal defense for hacking in the Information Age?

In an unauthorized biography, Julian Assange was credited with coining the term “Hacker’s Disease,” meaning symptoms and difficulties in life that are people with Autism and other behavioral differences must face predispose them to hacking. And today, even a cursory survey of hacking-related cases around the world reveals that the “autism defense” is emerging as an oft-used argument.

Gary McKinnon’s Autism Defense Against Hacking Charges

Gary McKinnon is an alleged Scottish hacker who the authorities say broke into US military and NASA computers. McKinnon cited Asperger’s Syndrome to avoid extradition, claiming he was overcome with an urge to “know the truth” about what was out there. And this urge, he claims, is what caused him to break laws and breach federal security systems. To those unfamiliar with Asperger’s Syndrome, this defense may sound as ridiculous as the “Twinkie defense,” but any parent whose child has Asperger’s is probably shaking their head in agreement, as they probably understand how compulsion can envelop someone with the syndrome.

Duncan Campbell at The Guardian recently wrote:

A final decision on whether computer hacker, GaryMcKinnon, is to be extradited to the United States is now imminent. Behind the scenes, a battle is apparently under way between politicians and officials over what the outcome should be. There may be much else to occupy the government at the moment, but it is vital that this matter of principle is not sidelined.

U.S. authorities indicated they’d be content with whatever decision the British government makes.

While having Asperger’s has not been a home run defense strategy, it has, so far, helped to stop McKinnon’s extradition. If McKinnon does escape extradition, it may spark a new trend in which one’s place on the autism spectrum is a factor.

Autism and Asperger’s as a Legal Defense for Hacking?

While the Gary McKinnon case is still unfolding, there are others who may use a similar defense.  According to the UK-based DailyMail, Jake Davis, an 18-year-old teenager from the Shetland Islands, suffers from a form of autism. Davis is thought to be the hactivist known as Topiary.

Additionally, former Anonymous member and LulzSec affiliate, Ryan Cleary, who was arrested in June of this year, also suffers from Asperger’s and agoraphobia – a fear of public spaces. Whether or not these extenuating circumstances will work as a solid defense for any of these men – or anyone else – remains to be seen, but it’s got the peanut gallery buzzing.

In order to see if Autism or even Asperger’s Syndrome will be a good defense for you personally, you should contact an experienced Internet Law Attorney who can answer any questions you have about charges you’re facing. There is a chance you may be able to use autism as a defense for hacking, but there is no way to know for sure until you talk to a hacker lawyer.

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