Lauri Love, the 34-year-old computer activist who faces a UK police investigation into allegations that he hacked into US government computers, appeared in court today arguing for the return of computer equipment seized by the National Crime Agency (NCA).
The NCA has confirmed that it is working with US prosecutors to bring charges against Love five-and-a-half years after he was arrested in a raid on his parents’ home in Stradishall, Suffolk.
Love’s legal action comes nearly a year after the Court of Appeal quashed a US extradition request against Love, having heard evidence that he would not be properly cared for in the US prison system and would be at high risk of suicide. The court urged the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to begin a prosecution in the UK.
Love is using the Police Property Act 1897 to bring legal action against the National Crime Agency to recover his computer equipment and the data contained on its hard drive.
Representing himself at a hearing at Hendon Magistrates’ Court, London, Love asked the court to use its discretion to return a Fujitsu Siemens laptop, an Acer Computer Tower and a Compaq computer tower, along with an SD card and hard drives.
In written submissions, approved for disclosure by the judge, Love said it was clear he had no relevant criminal record, nor history of offending, and had undertaken no actions to suggest he would commit criminal offences.
He argued that claims by the NCA that the alleged encrypted contents of his computer equipment would enable or facilitate the commission of offences was entirely “hypothetical”.
Love said in written submissions that the NCA would “undoubtedly have made multiple forensic copies” of the data and had, on multiple occasions, offered to return his property after “wiping” its contents, so it was clear that a copy would suffice for any police investigation.
At an earlier hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 18 December 2018, Love said there was no evidence that his computers contained encrypted data and that under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, the police had a duty to return his property.
Andrew Bird, representing the NCA, said during the December hearing that Love’s computer equipment, which was seized by police in 2013, contained information including “the addresses of police officers subscribed to the Police Oracle and large amounts of information from the US Department of Energy”.
Hendon Magistrates’ Court imposed restrictions against reporting facts and evidence disclosed during today’s hearing on the grounds that it may prejudice a future criminal case against Love if he was prosecuted by the National Crime Agency.
District judge Margot Coleman told the court that it was the default position under the Criminal Procedural Rules that the case should be heard in a closed hearing. She ruled that the court proceed in open court, but imposed reporting restrictions on evidence disclosed in court.
“Mr Love had extradition proceedings, which resulted in him not being extradited to the US. One was on forum [bar] grounds, one was on medical health. No decision has yet been taken whether proceedings will take place in this country. It is for that reason, because of ongoing trial, that I am not prepared to allow evidence to be reported in future because it might compromise a future trial,” judge Coleman said.
Speaking after the hearing, Love, who still faces extradition to the US if he travels outside the UK, said: “This case is important to me, but it has significant ramifications for everyone. The use of strong information security – in other words cryptography – should not be a reason to deprive people of their personal data.
“I would be happy if a side effect of this action is that the NCA recognises that it cannot do nothing indefinitely. At some point I would like to be able to travel internationally and get on with the rest of my life.”
The judge reserved a decision until 19 February at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
Love’s battle with the National Crime Agency and the US Department of Justice
25 October 2013: The National Crime Agency arrests 28-year-old Lauri Love under the UK’s Computer Misuse Act, on suspicion of network intrusion offences against the US Army, US Military and US Government. He is released on bail until February 2014.
28 October 2013: Love is indicted in New Jersey for hacking US government computer systems run by the Army, Missile Defence Agency, Environmental Protection Agency and Nasa. Authorities allege he worked with accomplices to hack into thousands of computer systems and downloaded confidential information on thousands of people, including members of the military.
February 2014: Police attempt to force Love to hand over his encryption keys under Section 49 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa). Love refuses, facing a possible jail sentence of two years. UK police make no attempt to prosecute.
27 February 2014: Love is charged in New York, with allegations of working with other computer hackers to access the computer servers of the US Federal Reserve Bank. He is accused of stealing confidential information – including emails and phone numbers – and posting it to a website.
7 July 2014: The National Crime Agency releases Lauri Love on bail.
24 July 2014: The Eastern District of Virginia indicts Love for allegedly hacking computers at the Department of Energy, the US Department of Health and Social Services, the US Sentencing Commission, the FBI’s Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory and two companies, Deltek and Forte Interactive.
November 2014: The NCA offers to return Love’s remaining property, on condition that it forensically wipes the data on the devices. Love refuses, saying the devices contain everything he owns digitally, including personal photographs, writing and other creative pieces of work.
March 2015: Love launches his first legal action against the NCA for the return of computer equipment seized from his home, under the Police (Property) Act. Bury St Edmunds Magistrate’s Court gives case management directions that Love provides decryption keys. Love objects, then withdraws his application to recover his property.
May 2015: The NCA returns a number of items it had seized from his parents' house, but holds on to two desktops, a laptop and other devices which officers said they had been unable to decrypt.
3 July 2015: Love withdraws his court action against the NCA, after it returns 25 items seized from his home, including laptops, computers, memory sticks and hard drives. The NCA retains six other items of computer equipment, which it alleges contain encrypted files.
15 July 2015: Love is re-arrested by the extradition unit of the Metropolitan Police.
November 2015: Lauri Love launches legal action against the NCA for the return of his computer equipment: a desktop computer, two laptops, two external hard drives and an SD card.
April 2016: In an unusual legal move, the National Crime Agency (NCA) attempts to use civil court proceedings to force Love to hand over encryption keys and passwords at a hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
10 May 2016: Westminster Magistrates’ Court rejected an attempt by the NCA to order activist Lauri Love to hand over encryption keys. Judge Nina Tempia tells the court on that she “was not persuaded” by the NCA’s demands that Love disclose the passwords to computer equipment seized from his home.
16 September 2016: District judge Nina Tempia approves Love’s extradition, passing the case on to home secretary Amber Rudd.
14 November 2016: Home secretary Amber Rudd approves Love’s extradition to the US.
29-30 November 2017: Love’s appeal against extradition is heard over two days at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
5 Feb 2018: The Court of Appeal rules that Lauri Love will not face extradition to the US to face hacking charges. In a landmark legal decision, the lord chief justice, Lord Burnett, ruled that extraditing Love, a 33-year-old engineering student who has Asperger’s and suffers from depression, would be oppressive to his physical and mental health. The court urges the NCA to prosecute Love in the UK
19 Dec 2018: The National Crime Agency (NCA) confirms there is a live investigation into Lauri Love in the UK, as Love brings legal action against UK police for the return of seized computer equipment.