Saving Lauri Love: activists plan their next move

An eclectic bunch of activists, charity workers and reformed hackers spent a rainy Sunday afternoon plotting their next move in a campaign to save Lauri Love from extradition to the US on hacking charges

Campaigners backing alleged hacker Lauri Love have pledged to fight on after a judge ruled his extradition to the US could go ahead despite fears that he might be a suicide risk.

It is now a month since judge Nina Tempia’s ruling that Love, who has Asperger’s, could be sent to the US to face charges in three states.

Home secretary Amber Rudd, who will make a decision by mid-November, is expected to rubber-stamp Judge Tempia’s ruling. Love will have 14 days to lodge an appeal if Rudd rules against him.

Should he appeal and lose, Love could take the case to the UK Supreme Court and, ultimately, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Plotting in the pub

Some 20 people met at a London pub on a rainy Sunday afternoon to plot their next move in a campaign to ensure Love faces trial in the UK.

Ye Old Cock Tavern in Fleet Street is just a stone’s throw from the Royal Courts of Justice, the likely setting of the next stage in Love’s battle against extradition.

The pub, which dates back to 1549, has been the haunt of Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens and Doctor Johnson. But it was eclectic bunch of political activists, campaigners, writers and reformed black-hat hackers that filed into the upper room on this particular occasion, to plan their next move in a three-year campaign to save Lauri Love from extradition.

Love faces allegations of hacking US agencies including Nasa, the Federal Reserve and the US Missile Defence Agency in 2012 and 2013, as part of Operation Last Resort following the suicide of activist Aaron Swartz. If convicted, Love could face 99 years in a US jail.

The 31-year-old’s supporters fear that the safeguards which prevented the extradition of former hacker Gary McKinnon, who is autistic like Love, are no longer effective.

Home secretary has little power to block extradition

Changes in the law after Gary Mckinnon’s 10-year battled with extradition for hacking reduced the home secretary’s power to block the court’s decision to extradite defendants on human rights grounds.

Naomi Colvin from the Courage Foundation, which is backing Love, said MPs who supported McKinnon “want to make sure that people on the autistic spectrum are not disproportionately singled out”. 

They are headed by McKinnon’s local Conservative MP David Burrowes and Labour’s Barry Sheerman.

Colvin urged people to contact their MPs about the case, as well as their US equivalents.

Speaking after the meeting, Mustafa Al-Bassam, a former member of the hacking group LulzSec, said he was concerned about his friend Love’s future if the extradition went ahead.

The PhD student also faced extradition to the US before he was prosecuted in the UK for launching cyber attacks against US organisations, including the CIA and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca).

In her ruling, judge Tempia accepted that Love was a high suicide risk. But supporters claim the US prison system is not equipped to cope with suicidal inmates.

“Extradition basically would be a death sentence for Lauri because the US prisons don’t have adequate support for people who are at risk of suicide,” said Al-Bassam.

Love should be tried in the UK

Jake Davis, who was prosecuted with Al-Bassam, said: “I see no reason why there should not be a trial in this country. This was the case for me in 2011. I was indicted in the US.”

Davis described Love as a talented, skilled, compassionate member of society. “He would not cope with a US prison. He needs his family and friends around him. It’s vital to his well-being,” he said.

Some of Lauri love’s supporters (left to right): Bethany Horne, Mustafa Al-Bassam, Ilva Letoja, Jake Davis

Davis urged computer professionals to back Love: “The first thing I would ask them to do is secure their systems. Lauri is someone who could do that.”

Activist and writer Bethany Horne told Computer Weekly: “What happens to Lauri will have such an impact on so many other people that we want to do something with him that makes sense of the broader problem, which is that the internet connects the world.”

Concerns over suicide

Another of Love’s friends, Wesley Hall, who had travelled from the north of England to attend the meeting, said: “We don’t want Lauri to go through what Aaron Swartz – who committed suicide in the US after facing a long jail sentence for hacking – did.

“If he was to be extradited, it would open the door to so many vulnerable children being taken from the UK.”

Ilva Letoja, who works in the charity sector, said if Love was sent to a US prison, “he would be under suicide watch, which is solitary confinement, which is torture”.

She suggested that current laws should be revisited, adding that Lauri and others like him could make a huge contribution to society.

Another supporter, Patrick McElligott, said: “It’s really important for people like Lauri to have a lot of support around him. If he loses, it could have really severe consequences.”

Writing for Computer Weekly, former hacker Gary McKinnon described the pressure of facing extradition as “corrosive”. He said “the incessant worrying eats away at your nerves” and described how he bought medication to kill himself rather than face trial in the US.

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