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More than 100 UK members of Parliament have signed a letter to US president Barack Obama urging him to drop an extradition request against Lauri Love, a 31-year-old engineering student who could face life in prison for allegedly hacking US computer systems.
MPs across all parties have lent their support to the campaign to persuade the US that Love, who has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and depression, should be allowed to face trial in the UK.
Love, who lives with his parents in Stradishall, Suffolk, is accused of talking part in Operation Last Resort, a hacking campaign to protest about the death of Aaron Swartz, an internet pioneer who committed suicide after being threatened with 35 years in jail under US law for mass-downloading academic journals in a university library.
Love faces trial in three US states for conspiring with others to hack into US government computer systems, including the US Army, Nasa, the Missile Defence Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Federal Reserve and two corporations providing services to government.
He is accused of downloading the personal details of thousands of government employees, including credit card details, social security numbers, phone numbers, emails and other confidential information between October 2012 and October 2013. The charges could lead to a jail sentence of 99 years, although there is no suggestion that Love acted for personal gain or made confidential information public, his lawyers said.
More than 100 MPs have signed the letter to Obama, written by Conservative MP David Burrowes, who campaigned for Gary McKinnon, also diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, while he fought a 10-year battle against extradition to the US on hacking charges.
The MPs’ letter raises concerns by medical and prison experts that Love would be at high risk of suicide if extradited to the US and forced to serve time in the US prison system, which is alleged to have a poor record of providing care for people with mental health problems.
“We have no doubt that there will be potentially fatal consequences if the US chooses to pursue this extradition and prohibit Mr Love from facing a full prosecution in his home country,” the letter said.
“We would ask you to intervene in this case by withdrawing the extradition order and allowing his case to be heard in the criminal justice system of the UK. You would be acting to prevent this vulnerable and mentally unwell man from being placed in a situation where he will most probably take his own life.”
The letter followed a meeting between Love, his legal team, autism campaigners and backbench MPs earlier in October 2016. The meeting, coordinating the political campaign against extradition, included Barry Sheerman, Labour MP for Huddersfield, Cheryl Gillan, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, and Heidi Allen, Conservative MP for South Cambridge.
Love’s supporters, who include writers, activists, charity workers and reformed hackers, have contacted MPs by email and Twitter to urge them to sign the letter.
Love, who is backed by the Courage Foundation, has been fighting extradition through a series of hearings at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
Medical and prison experts testified that Love would be at high risk of taking his own life, and that the US prison system was ill-suited to meeting the needs of people with medical and mental health problems.
Love could be extradited
District judge Nina Tempia ruled on 16 September 2016 that Love could be extradited. She accepted there was a substantial risk of him commiting suicide, but said she was satisfied there were safeguards in place in transit and the US prison system to prevent him from doing so.
The decision has cast doubt on the adequacy of the “forum bar”, which was introduced into extradition law by the then home secretary Theresa May following the US’s attempted extradition of McKinnon, to give UK courts discretion to refuse extradition requests.
Burrowes told Computer Weekly that Love’s case had shown that the forum bar, which had reduced the discretion of the home secretary to bar extradition requests, was not fit for purpose.
Read more about Lauri Love
- Video: Lauri Love – my battle with extradition.
- How did a brilliant but fragile student from a rural English town end up facing life imprisonment in the US? Computer Weekly speaks to Lauri Love.
- Westminster Magistrates’ Court has ruled that alleged hacker Lauri Love can be extradited to the US, where he could face a 99-year prison sentence.
- Computer activist Lauri Love should be spared a life sentence in US jail, says former hacker Gary McKinnon.
“I worked with Gary McKinnon, which is a remarkably similar case in terms of facts and the circumstances,” said Burrowes. “Where it differs is it lacks the direction of the home secretary, which was taken away by us in Parliament, and the sop to that was that discretion will go into the courts.”
Although president Obama, who will leave office in January 2017, has no powers to pardon Love, he does have the power to request that the extradition be withdrawn.
The MPs’ letter pointed out that the UK justice system has a track record of rehabilitating former hackers, and has successfully prosecuted hackers accused of accessing US computer systems.
“The UK has prosecuted at least 12 computer hackers who have hacked US-based computer systems,” the letter said. “Indeed, Love would be the first UK-based hacker to be extradited, and denied the opportunity to serve his sentence in the UK.”
One of the reasons why US prosecutors may be taking a tough line against Love is that, among other government computer systems, he is accused of hacking the FBI’s Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory, which handles much of the FBI’s forensic case work, and may be seen as a sensitive target.
The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are believed to have little evidence to back a prosecution against Love in the UK. In previous extradition cases, they are understood to have had difficulty obtaining full legal disclosure of evidence from the US government organisations to support prosecutions in the UK.
Forum bar flawed
Home secretary Amber Rudd is expected to confirm US judge Tempia’s ruling within weeks. Love will then have 14 days to lodge an appeal in the High Court in London. The case may go to the UK’s Supreme Court and, ultimately, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Lauri Love’s father, Alexander Love, a Baptist minister, told Computer Weekly that May had shown great courage in the past by rejecting McKinnon’s extradition, but he urged her to rethink the forum bar.
“She sought to enshrine those principles of compassion and even-handedness in the forum bar law,” he said. “Unfortunately, that law has not been implemented in the way she intended by those who are implementing it.”
Cheryl Gillan MP said the legal system needed to recognise that, although computer crimes did occur, people with autism were not always able to rein in their actions.
“I think this again will start to highlight the lacuna we have in our system, which is always going to be challenging because our legal system is always going to be behind our technology system,” said Gillan.
Barry Sheerman MP said the large number of signatories from across the political parties demonstrated a real and significant concern that the forum bar was not functioning to protect vulnerable British citizens.
“Lauri is autistic, and both physically and mentally unwell, yet is facing a possible 99-year sentence spent in solitary confinement in a maximum-security prison in the US. All those involved in this case believe he will end his own life if extradited. We are asking Barack Obama to withdraw the extradition order to allow a full prosecution here in the UK,” he said.
The NCA previously brought an order under section 49 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill (Ripa) against Love to disclose his encryption keys. However, it failed to prosecute Love when he failed to comply, leaving the way open for extradition.
If Love’s extradition is overturned, it is thought likely that the NCA will press charges against him for failing to comply with the Ripa disclosure order, which carries a sentence of two years.
Writing in Computer Weekly, McKinnon, now running his own IT business, said the threat of extradition had a corrosive effect on his wellbeing.
“You develop your own form of madness,” he said. “It’s a nightmare that wages a war of attrition on your already damaged mental health. One of the worst things is watching the destructive effect it has on your family.”
Lauri Love faces hacking allegations in three US states
US government agency systems hacked: Department of Health and Human Services; Health Resources and Services Administration; National Institutes of Health; Food and Drug Administration; United States Sentencing Commission; Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory (FBI); Department of Energy.
Private companies hacked: Deltek, a company that provides IT services to government contractors; Forte Interactive, a company that provides IT services to government contractors.
United States Military systems hacked: Engineer Research and Development Center; Plans and Analysis Integration Office; Strategic Studies Institute; Army Network Enterprise Technology Command; Army Contracting Command; Missile Defense Agency; Federal Facilities Environmental Stewardship and Compliance Assistance Center; United States Missile Defense Agency; Environmental Protection Agency; National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Federal Reserve computer systems.
Full text of MPs’ letter to president Obama
Dear Mr President,
We are writing to you with deep concern for the safety of Mr Lauri Love (born December 14, 1984) who is facing extradition to the United States for his alleged involvement in digital civil disobedience in 2013.
If Mr Love has committed a crime, he should be prosecuted and justice should be served. However, following meetings with Mr Love, his immediate family and advisors, we believe that if he is extradited, there is a great probability that he will end his own life. This has been confirmed by eminent medical experts.
Mr Love has a long history of serious mental health issues, depression and some episodes of psychosis and significantly has a diagnosis of a form of autism namely Asperger Syndrome. Furthermore, Mr Love suffers from severe eczema which is anxiety related and antibiotic resistant.
Mr Love takes regular courses of steroids to keep this under control and as his parents stated in court Mr Love has to take hour long baths every night to manage this chronic dermatological condition.
Consequently, there is significant concern that Mr Love's physical and mental well-being would deteriorate and become unmanageable if he were extradited. We have no doubt in mind that there will be potentially fatal consequences if the United States chooses to pursue this extradition and prohibit Mr Love from facing a full prosecution in his home country.
The UK has prosecuted at least twelve computer hackers who have hacked US-based computer systems. Indeed, Mr Love would be the first UK-based computer hacker to be extradited and denied the opportunity to face a full prosecution in the UK. The UK criminal justice system is equipped to bring justice through sentencing and rehabilitating people who are adjudged to have committed these crimes. Many of these twelve cases did not involve individuals who have significant mental health issues, nor Asperger Syndrome and were not at a high-risk of suicide, yet they were not extradited. We would like to ask, why then is the United States insistent on Mr Love’s extradition despite the UK having a proven track record of appropriately sentencing and rehabilitating individuals who have committed computer hacking offences against the US?
The UK District Judge accepted that Mr Love would be at a very high-risk of taking his own life is he were to be extradited. In contrast, Mr Love has the potential to return to life as a productive member of society and is already peer-mentoring at a university while completing his degree.
We would ask you to intervene in this case by withdrawing the extradition order and allow his case to be heard in the criminal justice system in the UK. You would be acting to prevent this vulnerable and mentally unwell man from being placed in a situation where he will most probably take his own life.
Mr Love should face prosecution for any crimes committed in his own country where his suicide-risk is exponentially reduced. We urge you to carry out an act of compassion in your final days as President by withdrawing Mr Love’s extradition warrant.
Adam Afriyie MP, Alan Brown MP, Alison Thewliss MP, Andrew Rosindell MP, Andrew Selous MP, Angela Smith MP, Angus MacNeil MP, Anne McLaughlin MP, Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, Antoinette Sandbach MP, Barry Sheerman MP, Bernard Jenkin MP, Brenden O’Hara MP, Caroline Ansell MP, Caroline Flint MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Charlie Elphicke MP, Charlotte Leslie MP, Christian Matheson MP, Clive Betts MP, Daniel Zeichner MP, David Burrowes MP, David Nuttall MP, David TC Davies MP, Douglas Chapman MP, Dr Paul Monaghan MP, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Drew Hendry MP, Eleanor Laing MP, Flick Drummond MP, Gareth Thomas MP, Gary Streeter MP, Gavin Newlands MP, Gavin Shuker MP, Geoffrey Robinson MP, George Kerevan MP, Graham Brady MP, Greg Mullholland MP, Heidi Allen MP, Helen Hayes MP, Ian Blackford MP, Ian Mearns MP, Ian Murray MP, Jake Berry MP, James Gray MP, Jeremy Lefroy MP, John McNally MP, John Nicolson MP, John Woodcock MP, Jonathan Reynolds MP, Julie Cooper MP, Julie Elliot MP, Karen Buck MP, Kate Hoey MP, Kirsten Oswald MP, Kit Malthouse MP, Laurence Robertson MP, Lilian Greenwood MP, Luciana Berger MP, Madeleine Moon MP, Margaret Ferrier MP, Maria Caulfield MP, Marie Rimmer MP, Mark Durkan MP, Mark Prisk MP, Martyn Day MP, Mary Glindon MP, Michelle Thomson MP, Mike Freer MP, Mike Weir MP, Nadine Dorries MP, Naseem Shah MP, Natalie McGarry MP, Nigel Evans MP, Owen Thompson MP, Paul Flynn MP, Paula Sherriff MP, Rachael Maskell MP, Rebecca Harris MP, Richard Benyon MP, Ronnie Campbell MP, Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Rt Hon Alistair Carmichael MP, Rt Hon Ann Clwyd MP, Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP, Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP, Rt Hon Dame Margaret Hodge MP, Rt Hon David Lammy MP, Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, Rt Hon Matthew Hancock MP, Rt Hon Tom Brake MP, Rupa Huq MP, Rushanara Ali MP, Ruth Smeeth MP, Sir David Amess MP, Sir Gerald Howarth MP, Sir Henry Bellingham MP, Steve Double MP, Stuart McDonald MP, Tommy Sheppard MP, Tristram Hunt MP, Vernon Coaker MP, Virendra Sharma MP, Wes Streeting MP, Yasmin Qureshi MP