Lauri Love's triumph against extradition to the US is a victory and may well set a precedent for future cases argues Julie Al-Hinai
Yesterday’s victory against extradition for Lauri Love may well set a precedent for how the US government pursues future claims against hackers. Prior to the verdict, Naomi Colvin of the Courage Foundation, the human rights group that has been providing assistance not only to Lauri but also to Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning amongst other high profile dissidents, recently claimed “Lauri’s case is critically important in determining the reach of America’s unusually harsh punitive sanctions for computer crimes.” However, not only may it set precedent for the US authorities but it will bring attention back to the UK’s Forum Bar.
The Forum Bar was introduced in 2013 to bolster the Extradition Act 2003 in the face of controversial requests from the US to extradite hacker Gary McKinnon. Brought in by Theresa May while Home Secretary, the Bar allows courts to halt extradition requests when a substantial proportion of the alleged offences took place in the UK and when it is in the interests of justice. However, Amber Rudd decided that it should not be used to stand in the way of Lauri’s extradition. This led to his appeal to the high court in November 2017, the verdict of which was announced today. It appears that the dictates of the Forum Bar - that an extradition may be halted after considering factors such as the harm occurred, the interests of any victims, whether evidence could be made available in the UK, the alleged offender’s connections with the UK, or whether UK law enforcement has decided not to bring proceedings, held true in this case.
The Bar was enacted in the context of a perceived imbalance in the UK’s extradition arrangements with the United States and following a number of high profile extradition requests from the United States such as the NatWest Three and Gary McKinnon cases, in which it was argued that some of the alleged criminality had taken place in the UK and therefore the United States was not the proper forum for any trial. It will be interesting to see whether this ruling will provide future protection for UK citizens from almost automatic extradition on request from the US. It may also indicate a progression to greater consideration of Human Rights by the judiciary as much of Lauri Love’s case was fought on his likelihood of committing suicide if he was to face the 99 years likely to be handed down to him for the offences which would have been tried in three separate states.
This sentence might have been reduced to thirty years in the case of a plea bargain. Love sincerely, categorically and repeatedly claimed that he would take his life if faced with extradition. There has been no reason to disbelieve him. Hours of his November appeal were spent on legal discussion around how well he could be prevented from doing this in a US penal institution.
The US penal system had been considered entirely adequate at protecting his life when district Judge, Nina Tempia refused to discharge the extradition warrant against Lauri Love at the trial of September 2016. She concluded that although Mr. Love “suffers from both physical and mental health issues…the medical facilities in the United States Prison Estate … are such that I can be satisfied his needs will be comprehensively met by the US authorities”. His case was then sent to Amber Rudd to decide as to whether he should be extradited. The intent of the Forum bar had been to avoid a Home Secretary having to be in a position where he or she might have to overrule the courts on the grounds of health, Human rights or other conditions. Ultimately this worked against Lauri. It gave him fourteen days to appeal against the ruling of Judge Tempia. In the footsteps of McKinnon’s family, public campaigns were set up to support Lauri.
Lauri, was recognised as a computer “genius”by the age of eight and was taught almost on a one to one basis as he was way ahead of the curriculum. It was not until 2014 that he was officially diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome, although he admits to having felt alienated and confused much of his younger years. Computers gave him some solace as they were entirely predictable he says. “Through a computer you can raise awareness, promote causes and help with educational missions and, sometimes, people engage in electronic civil disobedience.”
Lauri himself developed an interest in activism while studying at Glasgow, attending his first march against fascism in 2011. He was deeply involved in the student occupation of Heatherington Research centre which lasted for seven months and only came to an end with a heavy-handed police raid that attracted much media attention at the time. Later, Lauri became heavily involved in the Occupy Glasgow movement, taking up residence in a tent in the centre of Glasgow. He talks of the injustice of families being forced out of their homes in preparation for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in the city, Glasgow City Council’s closure of a day centre for people with learning difficulties to make way for a car park, and other injustices.
It was when he returned to his parents’ home in Suffolk that he took to internet activism. It was around this time that hacktivist groups such as Anonymous began making waves. Lauri took a keen interest in the activities of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, but it was the tragic death of Aaron Swartz that had a profound effect on him. Swartz had been accused of hacking JSTOR at M.I.T. and later committed suicide in detention in 2013 at the age of 26. Supporters had protested that the act was harmless, and JSTOR and MIT had already decided not to prosecute. “His death was totemic; it was symbolic. It was the death of the dream of an idealistic, optimistic internet that could be free and open. It was perceived by people as a personal attack on all of the things that they stood for,” says Lauri.
Laurie was first arrested at his family home in 2013 in a sting operation that involved the NCA arriving in the guise of couriers. As he held out his hand to take the “parcel” the officers whipped out the handcuffs. They then stormed into his house and took away his computers but eventually decided he did not have a case to answer, and released him without charge.
Lauri was arrested again on 15 July 2015, this time by the Metropolitan Police extradition unit, before being released on bail after a short hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court. He learned that he had been charged with hacking offences in the US from a BBC Radio 4 news bulletin. “I hadn’t been charged by the UK police. I thought the BBC had screwed up and I was ready to call them to say, ‘I don’t remember being charged, where did you get that information from?’,” he says.
US prosecutors had filed indictments claiming that Love was part of a sophisticated network of criminals involved in a protest by the hacktivist group Anonymous against the treatment of Aaron Swartz, code-named #Oplastresort. Charges filed in three US states claimed that Love worked with accomplices to infiltrate a wide range of US government computers and steal personal information and credit card details of government employees. 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.
The lack of any human involvement in the extradition process bothered Lauri deeply. He wanted to talk to someone about the charges levelled against him in the US. In his unique style, synonymous with Asperger’s Syndrome, Lauri, ever resourceful, found the phone number of one of his US prosecutors and decided to call him. He told the prosecutor:
You keep publishing these indictments against me. I’d rather that you didn’t, because there’s an ongoing investigation in the UK and we have our own court system. You writing, effectively, fan fiction about me isn’t going to help me get a job, and it’s distressing to have factually incorrect assertions made about me that I’m not able to contest.
Lauri also wanted to know whether the US would temporarily suspend the extradition request to allow him to attend the Chaos Communications Camp in Berlin, one of Europe’s largest gatherings of hackers and computer experts. “I won’t disappear anywhere,” Lauri told the prosecutor. “It’s just kind of ruined my summer plans, and it’s not going to benefit anyone.” The prosecutor sounded genuinely panicked, said Lauri, telling him repeatedly: “I can’t talk to you unless there’s an attorney present.” After that, Lauri said “I felt genuinely sorry for him and I haven’t pestered them since.”
Lauri is increasingly being recognised as an expert on hacking, surveillance and privacy issues in the UK and has made a principled stand against the country’s forced decryption laws. Many considered that Lauri Love deserved solidarity and needed support to oppose his extradition and end his persecution. Over the years, a movement of supporters and activists have campaigned relentlessly alongside his family and friends. In December 2017, the renowned rapper, Potent Whisper, released a Rhyming Guide to Lauri Love outlining the details of what he saw as the unjust persecution of Lauri and giving a comprehensive guide to hackers, justice, sovereignty and mental health.
Congratulating him on his success, as humble as ever, Lauri told me he felt it was this effort of his supporters that kept him going and ultimately helped to influence the outcome. Now, he told us, he just wants to get back to his studies and be able to concentrate on his private security consultancy. He sincerely hopes that following this ruling other cyber warriors will not have to go through similar emotional trauma. Leaving the court hand in hand with his family Lauri paid tribute to British justice, maintaining that any potential future trial here will not see him arm-locked into the admission of guilt in order to avoid a whole life sentence as would have been the case in the US.
Meanwhile, outside of the courts, friends and activists of the Free Lauri campaign vociferously and melodically reminded us “all you need is Love, Love, Love….Love is all you need."