Disabilities: to harness or to punish?

by Frankie Pagnacco on 31 July 2009

I’ve been following ‘British Hacker’ Gary McKinnon’s story in the press for a long time. Today I hear that he is one step closer to being extradited to the US to face charges of breaking into US military and Nasa computers. What is particular about this case is that Mr McKinnon has Asperger’s and admits hacking but denies it was malicious.

A couple of the many features of Asperger’s are a narrow focus of interests and, for the lucky, anuncommon intelligence with things like numbers or computers.

Mr McKinnon was trying to find information about UFOs which I imagine are the subject of his focussed interest. That he hacked in to such high security computers shows exceptional ability. Nevertheless he could face the rest of his life in a US jail far from his support and comfort network.

It strikes me that it would benefit the US military and Nasa much more to discover how their billion dollar security was breached. To learn something from Mr McKinnon about themselves and their systems. Maybe even to employ him? A bit more understanding about his condition (not to mention harnessing of it) could lead to such a different outcome. And a vulnerable man, even if guilty, could not only be avoiding a frightening future but contributing his unique skills to society.

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