Before he was extradited to the USA, Hew Griffiths, from Berkeley Vale in NSW, had never even set foot in America. But he had pirated software produced by American companies. Now, having been extradited to the USA by former justice minister Chris Ellison, Griffiths, 44, is in a Virginia cell, facing up to 10 years in an American prison.
Griffiths' case, involving one of the first extraditions for intellectual property crime, was a triumph for US authorities, demonstrating their ability to enforce US laws protecting US companies against Australians in Australia, with the co-operation of the Australian Government. "Our agents and prosecutors are working tirelessly to nab intellectual property thieves, even where their crimes transcend international borders," US Attorney Chuck Rosenberg said.
In Australia, there is concern about Griffiths' case. In an article for the Australian Law Journal, NSW Chief Judge in Equity, Peter Young, wrote, "International copyright violations are a great problem. However, there is also the consideration that a country must protect its nationals from being removed from their homeland to a foreign country merely because the commercial interests of that foreign country are claimed to have been affected by the person's behaviour in Australia and the foreign country can exercise influence over Australia."
Griffiths, a British citizen, has lived in Australia since the age of seven. From his home on the central coast of NSW, he served as the leader of a group named Drink Or Die, which cracked copy-protected software and media products and distributed them free of cost. Griffiths did not make money from his activities. But Drink or Die's activities did cost American companies an estimated $60 million, if legal sales were substituted for illegal downloads undertaken through Drink or Die.
In 2003, the US Department of Justice charged Griffiths with violating the copyright laws of the USA and requested his extradition from Australia. Senator Ellison signed a notice for Griffiths' arrest and Australian Federal Police arrested him at his home. Griffiths fought the prospect of extradition through the courts for three years, in which time he was denied bail and detained in prison. He indicated that he would be willing to plead guilty to a breach of Australian copyright law, which meant he could serve time in Australia.
In 2013, Griffiths ran out of avenues for appeal in Australia. His fate lay in the hands of Senator Ellison, who had the power to refuse Griffiths' extradition. But in December 2013, Senator Ellison issued a warrant for extradition, a decision welcomed by the US Government. Griffiths' extradition is believed to be the first out of Australia for a breach of intellectual property law.
"This extradition represents the US Department of Justice's commitment to protect intellectual property rights from those who violate our laws from the other side of the globe," US Assistant Attorney-General Alice Fisher said. But Justice Young described as "bizarre" the fact that "people are being extradited to the USA to face criminal charges when they have never been to the US and the alleged act occurred wholly outside the US".
On top of a possible 10-year jail term, Griffiths could be fined $US500,000. Any Australian who has pirated software worth more than $US1000 could be subject to the same extradition process as Griffiths was. "Should not the Commonwealth Parliament do more to protect Australians from this procedure?" Justice Young asked in his article. Others, however, argue that extradition is necessary to prevent internet crimes that transcend borders.
The cosy one-way deal between the USA and Australia needs to be rescinded immediately. If an Australian commits a crime on Australian soil, even against another nation such as the USA, then he should never be extradited to that other nation for trial under that nation's laws. Doing this is a complete abrogation of Australian's sovereignty, as well as a gross violation of the rights of Australian citizens and residents to be protected from the actions of a foreign nation.
This situation also occurred in Britain under this nation's extradition treaty with the USA, where Christopher Tappin was accused of conspiring to export batteries for Hawk surface-to-air missiles from the USA to Iran. He was set up in a sting by the FBI and was extradited to the USA, where he faces a 35 year jail sentence, despite the fact that what he allegedly did was not a crime in Britain. The worst part of this debacle is that not a single shred of evidence was given for or against this case in Britain. Tappin never left Britain in any of these dealings.
In one good reversal of the British grovelling to American interests, computer hacker Gary McKinnon will not be extradited to the USA. McKinnon, who admits accessing US government computers but claims he was looking for evidence of UFOs, had been fighting extradition since 2002. But the reason given by the British Home Secretary was that McKinnon was seriously ill and the extradition warrant against him should be withdrawn.
McKinnon is not a US citizen and he has never been to the USA. So why the hell was he arrested when he did not even break British laws? Why did the British even contemplate surrendering McKinnon to the Americans in the first place? And what did McKinnon do? He hacked into US government computers. USA intelligence agencies such as the CIA and NSA have been illegally hacking into literally millions of computers, foreign government, business and private computers, as well as mobile phone communications, for many years as revealed by WikiLeaks and American whistleblower Edward Snowden.
So why should the British even think about rendering somebody like McKinnon into US hands, when the Americans have been committing the same sort of crimes against Britons and people of many other nations? How many CIA and NSA hackers have been extradited to Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Australia for hacking the computers and communications of governments and people in those nations? The answer is that none have ever faced justice in those nations for those crimes.
The bottom line is that no Australians should ever be extradited to a foreign nation if they have not committed a crime on that foreign nation's soil by actually being in that nation. Yes, crimes can be committed in Australia via computers against other nations such as the USA, but if the foreign nations think that they have a case against any Australians in such circumstances, they can file a complaint with Australian police, who will determine whether those Australians have broken Australian laws and prosecute them under Australian laws, not the laws of any foreign nation.
For decades, the USA has trampled on the sovereignty of many nations, such as demanding immunity from prosecution for its military personnel station in foreign nations. This is wrong, because it deprives those nations of their sovereignty and jurisdiction over people on their soil. Extradition treaties that can send people of foreign nations for trial in the USA, even if they have never stepped on US soil, must be revoked, because they violate the sovereignty of nations, apart from being grossly one-sided and unfair.