Friday, January 25, 2008

Exclusive: Hew Griffiths to walk free tomorrow!

Australia Day will be bitter-sweet for Hew Griffiths, an unemployed computer programmer from Berkeley Vale on the NSW Central Coast.

The 45-year old will walk free from the Ohio Correctional Centre tomorrow after six months in US jails as the first Australian and one of the first people in the world to be extradited to the US for the crime of illegally downloading software.

Hew Griffiths was arrested at his father’s weatherboard house at 3.00am one morning in 2003 after being charged with violating the copyright laws of the United States.

He successfully appealed against the extradition request arguing that he had never been to the US and didn’t even own a passport, having come to Australia from the UK at the age of seven....

But the US government itself appealed and won in the Federal Court claiming that Australian residents did not need to have set foot in the US in order for it to have the right to extradite them there.

The NSW Chief Judge in Equity Justice Peter Young attacked the judgment in Australian Law Journal, describing it as ''bizarre''

Australia’s then Justice Minister Chris Ellison rejected pleas to intervene and in February last year two officials brandishing a one-way travel document bundled Griffiths on to a plane in what became propaganda victory for the US Department of Justice.

“Whether committed with a gun or a keyboard theft is theft,” said US Attorney Chuck Rosenberg at the time. “And, for those inclined to steal intellectual property here, or from half-way around the world, they are on notice that we can and will reach them.”

But when Griffith arrived in the US the charges of illegal downloading were dropped (Griffiths’ computer only had a dial-up connection) and he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of conspiracy to commit a copyright infringement.

Described in the jail’s records as “white, male and 45” Griffiths is due to be released from the Ohio Correctional Centre tomorrow, on January 26.

Including the three years he spent in Sydney’s Silverwater Correctional Centre fighting the extradition he will have spent four years behind bars.

His elderly father Neil Griffiths is bitter about the timing of his son’s release.

Without the funds to travel, he hasn’t seen his son since he was forcibly removed from Australia last February.

“They’re releasing him on Australia Day,” he told the Canberra Times. “Is this a pure coincidence or are the Americans having a laugh at our expense?”

Until Wednesday this week it looked as if Hew Griffiths might not be able to return to Australia at all.

Because his family arrived in Australia as “ten pound pom” migrants in the 1970’s Hew Griffiths lacked both a passport and a reentry visa.

His status as a permanent resident was automatically revoked when he was bustled out of Australia without those documents last year.

His father feared that on release from the jail tomorrow he would be thrown into US immigration detention.

On Wednesday the Australian Department of Immigration restored his permanent resident status and granted him a reentry visa after he successfully obtained a British passport.

Neil Griffiths said yesterday that he was relieved his son was coming back but that he wouldn’t’ believe it until it happened.

Using a computer that his father had bought to help with an adult education course Hew Griffiths joined and is said to have eventually helped run a global software cracking group entitled DrinkOrDie.

His father said at the time of his arrest that he had been pleased that his son had been taking an interest in computers but that he had no idea of what he was doing.