Lauri Love, the former engineering and computing student facing jail in the US over allegations that he hacked into US government computer systems, has been granted permission to appeal against extradition.
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Love is accused of hacking into key US institutions, including NASA, the FBI and the Federal Reserve bank, as part of an online protest against the death of internet pioneer Aaron Swartz, following Swartz’s arrest and suicide in the US.
Love, 32, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s and depression, and lives with his parents in Stradishall, Suffolk, faces a possible 99-year prison sentence and three trials in three US states, if the extradition goes ahead.
The case is the first major test of the “forum bar” introduced by the then home secretary, Theresa May, to allow UK citizens to challenge US extradition requests, following hacker Gary McKinnon’s 10-year battle against extradition.
Love’s legal team argues that he is at high risk of suicide if the extradition goes ahead, and he should face trial in the UK, rather than be sentenced under the US’s Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which is frequently used by US prosecutors to impose harsh sentences on hackers.
No date has been set for the appeal hearing, which will consider new evidence on the harsh conditions inside US prisons. Love’s defence team argues that he is unlikely to receive the care he needs for his mental and physical health conditions.
Human rights group Liberty, which has campaigned on behalf of UK citizens facing extradition – including former hacker Gary McKinnon, and Talha Ahsan, who was jailed after being accused of association with a terrorism-linked Islamic news site – has been given permission to present evidence in the case.
Reacting to the news, Love said: “Good news comes scantily between crisis and calamity. I am thankful the High Court has recognised the strength of our grounds for appeal and the great importance of issues raised by the case.”
Love’s legal team is expected to argue that a judgment made last year in favour of Love’s extradition did not properly consider the forum bar, which is designed to protect vulnerable people and people with strong links to the UK from extradition.
MP to meet Attorney General
More than 100 UK MPs from all parties wrote to US president Barack Obama last year, requesting that he drop the extradition request and allow Love to be tried in the UK. They continue to lobby for Love’s trial to be held in the UK.
David Burrowes, Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate, who is one of the MPs driving the campaign, said he planned to meet the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, tomorrow to brief him on the case.
Burrowes, who told Computer Weekly the case was an important test of the extradition law, said he hoped Wright would make representations on behalf of Love to his US counterpart, Jeff Sessions.
“This has wider implications than Lauri Love’s case,” he said.
MPs have also written to the US ambassador in London, and to US president Donald Trump, requesting that the US reconsiders extradition in favour of a trial in the UK.
Love’s parents have voiced fears that their son will take his own life rather than face jail in the US. His father, prison chaplain Alexander Love, told a television documentary last year: “When Lauri says he will kill himself if taken to America, I believe him to be stating something he intends to do.”
The appeal follows a decision by Judge Nina Tempia at Westminster magistrates court to allow Love’s extradition, following a two-day hearing in September 2016.
The home secretary, Amber Rudd, who has little discretion to intervene after the introduction of the forum bar, endorsed the decision to extradite Love in November.
In her judgment last September, Judge Tempia accepted there was a substantial risk that Love would commit suicide. But she said she was satisfied there were safeguards in place in transit and in the US prison system to prevent him taking his own life.
Charges filed in three US states claimed that Love worked with accomplices to infiltrate a wide range of US government computers and steal the personal information and credit card details of government employees.
Cold Fusion exploit
The group was accused of exploiting a known vulnerability in Adobe’s Cold Fusion software to break into US government servers between 2012 and 2013, according to the indictments, which rely heavily on records of discussions between the alleged hackers in internet relay chat (IRC) rooms.
On one occasion, Love is alleged to have written, under a pseudonym: “You have no idea how much we can f*ck with the US government if we want to… this stuff is really sensitive, it’s basically every piece of information you need to do full identity theft on any employee or contractor.”
Love’s legal team has argued there is no evidence that he made any confidential information public, or that he accessed confidential information for financial gain, or any other illegal purposes.
Love was first arrested by agents of the National Crime Agency – the UK equivalent of the FBI – in October 2013 under the UK’s Computer Misuse Act. He was arrested again, in June 2015, on behalf of US prosecutors.
Silkie Carlo, policy officer for Liberty, said: “We hope the High Court will interpret the law to ensure that extradition powers are used to prevent fugitives escaping rather than to send off Britons accused of committing offences here in the UK.”