ICE site seizure notice. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Written By Jennifer Smith
After a long day of work as a nurse for terminally ill children, Julia O’Dwyer goes straight to her computer, where she stays until ten o’clock at night or later. She spends these hours studying extradition law and copyright law in both the UK and US, and of course, updates her blog and Twitter.
“I never went on Twitter before this happened. I wouldn’t have time for it normally,” O’Dwyer says. “It wouldn’t interest me … but it’s changed now.”
Julia O’Dwyer’s 24-year-old son, Richard, faces extradition to the US and two charges carrying maximum sentences of 5 years imprisonment each for alleged copyright infringement. His website, TVShack.net, was seized by the US government in June 2010 for containing links to copyrighted materials on other sites; however, TVShack.net didn’t stream or store any content of its own. Julia O’ Dwyer describes Richard as a quiet fourth-year university student studying interactive media with animation and says he has no criminal record.
In March 2012, Home Secretary Theresa May approved Richard’s extradition.
“It’s been so terrifying and stressful because when you get told about extradition, you don’t get any information from the government or police,” Julia O’Dwyer says. “They just mentioned that word and took Richard to the court so I had to come home and try to start researching on the Internet all about extradition to America.”
She found some troubling issues with the US-UK Extradition Treaty 2003, which has stirred up plenty of controversy in the UK for being lopsided.
“People in the UK are saying it’s not operating equally on both sides,” Julia says. “There are many more British people being extradited to America than there are coming the other way.”
This treaty has been applied in Richard’s case, but also more famously in the case of Gary McKinnon, who has been fighting extradition for years after his indictment in 2002 for allegedly hacking into 97 U.S military and NASA computers.
Since police showed up at Julia O’Dwyer’s home in Derbyshire, UK in November 2010 to search and seize Richard’s computer, she has found a lot of support on Twitter, including some valuable advice from Gary McKinnon’s mother, Janis Sharp, who is also fighting her son’s extradition.
“She’s been really helpful because she is very knowledgeable about the law,” Julia says of Janis Sharp. “Actually, Twitter’s been brilliant because so many copyright lawyers have been contacting me and lots of techy people are sending me information to help the case. We’ve used a lot of that information that’s come from Twitter. It’s all been passed to the lawyers.”
Richard and Julia O’Dwyer recently appealed the extradition and currently await a court date, which should be scheduled for either mid-summer or October. In the meantime, Julia O’Dwyer continues to work during the day and mount a legal argument at night, which involves gathering evidence to prove that Richard’s conduct doesn’t amount to a criminal offense in the UK.
On her blog, Extradition The Fight of Our Lives, she writes about extradition extensively and maintains a petition for Richard.
“The petition is global because they’ve made this a global matter,” Julia explains. “ Because it’s about the Internet, and it’s about the jurisdiction and about America exerting its jurisdiction, I thought it would be appropriate to have a global petition. When we were at the court in January before the judge made his decision, the petition had something like 2,000 signatures on it and in the course of about 48 hours, it got up to 16,000 signatures. That was all really through Twitter and the media.”
Richard O’ Dwyer has never been to America nor were any of TVShack.net’s servers located in America, says Julia.
Still, he faces prison time across the pond and Julia fears he won’t have a trial if extradited.
“They’re supposed to keep you there till you have a trial…” Julia O’Dwyer says. “But what they intend to do with people who are extradited is leave them in prison until they decide to plea. If you want to get home, the quickest way to get back is to do that plea.”
Until his court date, Richard continues to pursue his degree and attempts to stay out of the public eye. Meanwhile, his mother continues to garner support on social media in hopes of putting pressure on the British government to reform the extradition treaty.
“I don’t think Richard likes the publicity. He’s kind of quiet really, and he’s not that sort of person that would appreciate being all over the papers and on the TV,” Julia says. “I don’t either, but I see it as a necessary evil. The main aim is to get public support and put pressure on the government.”
“It’s the law that’s at fault,” she says of the US-UK Extradition Treaty 2003. “It’s not America’s fault. They’re only doing this because they can.”