If you think David Hicks is the only Australian that the Howard government has stitched up and gladly handed over the United States on a dodgy legal pretext spare a thought for Hew Griffiths. As Richard Ackland notes:
Hew Griffiths has been in prison here for nearly three years for allegedly breaching US copyright law. He has been charged by a grand jury in the US, but the offences alleged against him have never been tested, and the Australian Government has refused to resist an American demand to “surrender” him to face trial before the US District Court in Virginia.
Griffiths was born in England and has lived in Australia from the age of 7. His crime was breaching US copyright law via software piracy. The trouble is that Griffiths has never set foot in the US. He has lived all his life in Australia on the NSW Central Coast. He has been in custody for the past three years (he is 44 now) awaiting moves to extradite him to the US.
It is not a question of whether Griffiths is innocent. He has himself offered to plead guilty under the Australian copyright act. It is a question of whether the US is justified in demanding his extradition. Ackland reveals:
Griffiths is the only person, and the only Australian, in the group that the US is pressing to extradite.
It seems the Australian Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, and his department are only too eager to co-operate.
The relevant minister under the Extradition Act, Chris Ellison, has the power to refuse the US request. Griffiths’s lawyers at the NSW Legal Aid Commission have written to Ellison asking him to exercise his power to do so.
There was a delay of eight months last year while people in the Attorney-General’s Department drafted a submission to the minister.
The NSW Attorney-General, Bob Debus, wrote to Ruddock in June 2005 making the same argument, that extradition is inappropriate in this case. These pleas went nowhere and yet there is no explanation why this man cannot be charged in Australia and why of all those arrested, he is the only one the Americans want in captivity on their soil.
The plight of Hew Griffiths is disturbing for a number of reasons and not just the kowtowing to the US by the Australian government. It also raises the issue of whether a person using the Internet is subject to the jurisdiction of other countries even if they physically haven’t set foot in the country.
The US has past form in this regard. While online gambling is legal is some countries it is illegal in the US. Yet business people who own Internet gambling companies have been arrested upon entering the US based on pre-Internet legislation.
As Jacob Sullum concludes in the Reason article:
If an executive of a U.S. media company were arrested in Beijing for violating a Chinese law against “subversive” online speech, or in Tehran for creating “indecent” Web content viewed by Iranians, Americans would ask what right these countries have to impose their illiberal policies on us. Sadly, our government is giving people in other countries good cause to wonder the same thing about the United States.
Not that the Australian government seems overly concerned.
Update [by MB]: Skepticlawyer posts on the legal issues at Catallaxy.