UK crimes should mean UK time

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Richard O'Dwyer will be extradited to face trial in the US

Here's a question: if you're a UK citizen, and live in the UK, and you do something in the UK that might be illegal, what happens next? Should you (a) be tried in the UK, under UK law? Or should you (b) be bundled onto a plane and sent to America, with its famously pleasant prisons and scrupulously fair and incorruptible legal system?

If you answered (b), you'll be delighted with today's decision in the case of The Government of the United States of America versus Richard O'Dwyer [PDF]. Accused of copyright infringement, the Sheffield student will be extradited to face trial in the US unless the UK government steps in.

You'd need to be pretty naive to believe that O'Dwyer is an innocent internet user targeted unfairly by The Man - he ran a website that linked to illegally copied TV programmes and movies, making £15,000 a month from selling ad space on it - but that's not the point.

The point is that, just like in the Gary McKinnon case, we're doing what the US says no matter how stupid and unfair its request happens to be.

Local justice for local people

If anything, this case is even more unfair than the Gary McKinnon one: at least some of the computers McKinnon compromised were actually located in the US.

O'Dwyer's site was hosted in the Netherlands and controlled from the UK; the reason the US wants to extradite him is because he was "earning fairly substantial sums from persons in the USA from advertisements".

If that sounds pretty tenous, it is - but as far as extradition goes, the law is currently a very big ass. As The Guardian explains, the problem is the UK's extradition agreement with the US.

If the Americans want to extradite somebody, it's not up to the UK to decide whether that's fair or unfair. If a crime appears to have been committed, we're supposed to send the accused right on over.

The defence's comparison of TVShack with Google is facile - Google doesn't and never has linked exclusively to unauthorised copies of copyrighted material - but whether O'Dwyer is a bad guy isn't up to the US courts to decide.

He's a British citizen who allegedly broke the law in the UK. He should be tried here, and if he's convicted he should serve his time here.

I blame the government. That's not just a soundbite: both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats were openly critical of the extradition treaty when they were in opposition and promised to amend it.

Speaking about the Gary McKinnon case in 2009, Nick Clegg said: "The British Government cares more about its relationship with the United States than it does about the welfare of its citizens. Where is this Government's moral compass?"

It's a good question. Where's yours and Cameron's, Nick?

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now and her next book, about pop music, is out in 2025. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind.