A married father who hacked into hundreds of webcams across the world to spy on women undressing and having sex will not be extradited to the US, a judge ruled today.
Christopher Taylor, 57, tricked 772 people in 39 different countries into downloading the computer software ‘Cammy’ from his home in Wigan between August 2012 and July 2015.
The father-of-three collected hundreds of images, including ‘people in various stages of undress and involved in sexual activity’, Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard.
He was caught after administrators at Georgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta, alerted the FBI when the malware was installed on the laptop of a student at the university’s aerospace laboratory.
Christopher Taylor, who spied on 772 victims across 39 different countries from his home in Wigan between August 2012 and July 2015, will not be extradited to the US, a judge ruled today
Cammy is listed as an ‘all in one camera alarm system’ on the company’s LinkedIn page.
In an interview with an FBI special agent and a detective from Greater Manchester Police in 2016, Taylor confessed to using his software to take over webcams before downloading screenshots and videos.
He is wanted in the US to face trial on an indictment alleging one offence of wire fraud and two of computer fraud.
But District Judge Michael Fanning on Monday ordered Taylor’s discharge from the extradition request after his lawyers argued he should instead face proceedings in the UK, where no criminal investigation has yet been launched.
‘I do find in your favour,’ the judge said. ‘I do find extradition would not be in the interests of justice.’
But he added: ‘You should note, the US government can appeal against my decision or they may choose to provide evidence to the authorities in the UK so you can be prosecuted here.’
He said the couple’s right to a family life would be ‘disproportionately interfered with’ should he be extradited.
Taylor and his wife Wendy, who he cares for full time, previously told the judge they would both take their lives if he ordered his extradition.
In October Judge Fanning said he was ‘damned’ whichever decision he made.
Taylor, appearing on his solicitor’s laptop after he could not access the court’s video-link system, was granted conditional bail after Daniel Sternberg, representing the US government, indicated the US would appeal.
District Judge Michael Fanning ordered Taylor’s discharge from the extradition request at Westminster Magistrates’ Court
The court heard ‘CyberGate’ and other remote access tools were found on Taylor’s computer along with some 772 files – one per victim – containing hundreds of saved webcam images, ‘including images of people in various stages of undress and involved in sexual activity’.
The judge said in a written judgment: ‘None, it would seem, were aware of (Taylor’s) illicit observation of them. Certainly, none of them consented to it.’
Some 52 victims were identified in both the US and the UK and Taylor’s lawyer, Ben Cooper QC, argued his client should face proceedings in England, where he would likely be handed a suspended prison sentence if convicted.
The barrister said in written submissions Taylor had not used the malware for ‘sexual gratification’ or targeted anyone in particular but had an ‘obsessive interest in computers and hacking’.
‘He would try to build fast computers and play video games for hours on end every night. He also became fascinated by the idea that he would be able to see through other people’s webcams – describing it himself as an ‘addiction’,’ Mr Cooper said.
‘It is submitted that it is not in the interests of justice to extradite Mr Taylor given the entirety of the activity for which Mr Taylor is charged was carried out in Mr Taylor’s home in Wigan, England, where he still resides and has strong and significant family connections and only 7 per cent of the victims were based in the US at the time with 93 per cent outside of the US.’
Earlier, a court heard that Taylor had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and Mr Cooper, defending, claimed this demonstrated he was ‘socially naïve’ to the legal repercussions of his crime.
He said: ‘Most of the harm did not occur in the US and it is no more in the interests of the 722 worldwide victims to conduct the trial in the US than in the UK. Having Mr Taylor tried here would be sufficient.
‘There are no significant practical advantages to holding the trial in the US, but given the grave risks to Mr and Mrs Taylor there are very real disadvantages to all concerned.’
Mr Cooper claimed the ‘dire consequences’ for the couple would not be equal to the crime, which he maintained was not sexually motivated.
The lawyer added that the recent surge in coronavirus infections in the US meant Taylor, who is shielding, would be ‘safer from the serious risks of Covid in an English prison than a US federal prison.’
Mr Cooper earlier told the court Taylor became fascinated and ‘addicted’ to the idea he could see through other people’s webcams.
He said Taylor did not use the malware for sexual gratification but was ‘just intrigued by how it all worked.’
Taylor, of Wigan, admits wire tapping and computer fraud.
He will remain on bail with conditions including he wear an electronic tag and abide by a curfew from midnight to 6am pending the US government’s appeal.