Lauri Love: Alleged British hacker wins battle against extradition to US for cyber attacks

Family feared 32-year-old, who still faces prosecution in the UK, would kill himself if imprisoned in the US

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Monday 05 February 2018 12:20
Alleged British hacker Lauri Love wins battle against extradition to US

A man accused of launching cyber attacks on targets including the FBI, the US army, Nasa and the Department of Defence has won his battle against being extradited to the US.

The High Court ruled that Lauri Love should be tried in Britain after Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett and Mr Justice Ouseley heard he suffered severe mental illness and could kill himself.

“If proven, these are serious offences indeed,” their judgment said. “The experience of imprisonment in England would be significantly different for Mr Love from what he would face in the United States.

“The support of his family, in particular, would mean that he would be at far lower a risk of suicide in consequence.”

Speaking outside the court, an elated Mr Love expressed his thanks to the judges, adding: “I’m thankful for all the support we’ve had, without which I’m not sure I would have made it this far.”

Flanked by his parents, girlfriend and supporters chanting his name, he added: “The reason I’ve gone through this ordeal is not just to save myself from being kidnapped and locked up for 99 years in a country I’ve never understood, but to set a precedent whereby this will not happen to other people in the future, and that if there is suspected criminality it will be tried here in the UK and America will not try to exercise its extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Lauri Love and his girlfriend Sylvia Mann outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London on 5 February

“We’re hopeful that other people may be able to rely on this verdict to ensure they are treated more humanely by the justice system.”

The 32-year-old’s family said they feared he would kill himself if sent to an American prison, following a long history of serious mental health issues including depression and psychotic episodes.

Mr Love has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and also suffers from severe eczema related to his anxiety.

He and his parents were in court for the hearing, while supporters gathered outside holding signs reading “trial at home” and “free Love”.

The student, who is studying electrical engineering at the University of Suffolk, says he wants to work in cyber security and helped combat the WannaCry virus that disabled large parts of the NHS last year.

The case was a test for a legal measure called the forum bar, which was introduced to stop vulnerable British defendants being extradited “in the interests of justice” when their cases could be heard at home instead.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has 14 days to seek an appeal to the Supreme Court, but is expected to prosecute Mr Love itself after judges said the move would not be “oppressive”.

“If the forum bar is to operate as intended, where it prevents extradition, the other side of the coin is that prosecution in this country rather than impunity should then follow,” the judgment added.

Supporters of Lauri Love outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London

“The CPS must now bend its endeavours to his prosecution, with the assistance to be expected from the authorities in the US, recognising the gravity of the allegations in this case, and the harm done to the victims.”

Liberty, which was among the groups making representations in the case, said it was “delighted” with the result.

Emma Norton, the group’s head of legal casework, said: “Where unlawful activity is alleged to have taken place in the UK, those suspected should be tried in the UK – not packed off to foreign courts and unfamiliar legal systems.

“This is especially important in cases of vulnerable people like Lauri Love. This was always a case that could have been prosecuted here, and it’s shameful that Lauri and his family have been put through this terrible ordeal.”

Sarah Lambert, head of policy at the National Autistic Society, said the criminal justice system can often overlook the needs of autistic offenders and defendants.

“As we raised in evidence in Lauri’s case, autistic people need the right support so their needs are understood, particularly in prison, or they may develop complex and long-term mental health problems,” she added.

“We believe autistic people need fair access to justice which takes their autism into account, and we hope that the UK courts will ensure that Lauri has the correct support in place through the next phase of the proceedings.”

A spokesman for Mr Love’s solicitors, Kaim Todner, said mental health provisions in US prisons were not adequate.

“In this instance, the court was very sympathetic to our argument that there was no real reason that a trial could not take place in England, and that the effects on Lauri’s mental and physical health would render extradition highly oppressive,” he added.

“This deterioration in health was likely to have meant that he would not have been fit to stand trial and that, therefore, extradition would not have been in anyone’s interests, least of all those of the alleged victims.”

Representing Mr Love at a hearing in November, Edward Fitzgerald QC said there were “overwhelming reasons of justice and humanity” why any trial should take place in the UK.

He argued that it would be ”unjust and oppressive“ to extradite the alleged hacker because of the risk of suicide.

But Peter Caldwell QC, representing the US, made submissions inviting judges to dismiss Mr Love’s appeal.

Mr Love is accused of stealing data from American agencies including the Federal Reserve, the US army, the defence department, Nasa and the FBI in a spate of cyber attacks in 2012 and 2013.

Mr Love was allegedly involved with #OpLastResort, which saw global hackers target the US government following the suicide of American computer scientist Aaron Swartz.

Known for his work developing RSS feeds, Creative Commons and Reddit, as well as his online activism, Mr Swartz killed himself after being charged with fraud for unauthorised journal downloads.

Mr Love’s lawyers said he could be given a 99-year prison sentence if convicted in the US because he has been indicted in three judicial districts.

Mr Love’s father said his son ”fears for his life“ before the ruling was handed down.

“He is very distressed, he is obviously afraid because he has stated on more than one occasion that he fears for his life because he doesn’t think he can cope with the trauma of being taken away from his family and his country and taken in exile to America,” Rev Alexander Love told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Mr Love outside the Royal Courts of Justice

Mr Love lives with his parents near Newmarket in Suffolk, and his father said that although he should “face the music ... it should be a British band“.

His supporters argued that the systems infiltrated in #OpLastResort had publicly known vulnerabilities and that rather than doing “real harm”, the bulk of costs were incurred by bringing protections up “up to the standard of security that they should have been in the first place”.

Mr Love had appealed a ruling handed down in Westminster Magistrates’ Court in 2016, where District Judge Nina Tempia said he could be extradited.

She identified a high risk of suicide but did not bar the move, on the condition that it could be managed in American facilities.

Amber Rudd formally signed off on the extradition as Home Secretary, following opposition by 114 MPs of all parties who signed a joint letter to Barack Obama.

Citing Mr Love’s history of mental illness and autism, the letter said: “If Mr Love has committed a crime, he should be prosecuted and justice should be served.”

MPs said Mr Love would be the first UK-based computer hacker to be extradited, with a dozen previous cases heard in Britain even though their attacks affected the US.

As Home Secretary Theresa May blocked the extradition of Gary McKinnon, another hacker suffering Asperger’s syndrome and depression who was judged to be a suicide risk.

At the time, Ms May said Mr McKinnon was “seriously ill” and his extradition for accessing US government computers – looking for evidence of UFOs – would breach his human rights.

The case sparked accusations of hypocrisy from critics citing other cases where British citizens with Asperger’s had not been saved from extradition.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said the current Home Secretary was not involved in current proceedings.

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