The home secretary, Amber Rudd, has signed off on a US extradition request made against the alleged computer hacker Lauri Love.
Love faces charges of hacking into key US institutions, including Nasa, the FBI and the Federal Reserve Bank, in a string of security attacks between 2012 and 2013.
Three US states have served indictments against Love, who could face three separate trials if extradited. His lawyers believe he could face a maximum sentence of 99 years in prison and a fine of up to $9m.
Love and his legal team have 14 days to appeal the extradition ruling, and it is expected they will do so. If approved by the High Court, the appeal will be heard in spring 2017.
The Home Office said the secretary of state, Amber Rudd, had “carefully considered all relevant matters” before signing the order.
It said in a statement: “Mr Love has been charged with various computer hacking offences, which include targeting US military and federal government agencies.”
Lauri Love at suicide risk
District judge Nina Tempia ruled in favour of Love’s extradition in September 2016, following a two-day hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in July.
Tempia accepted that Love was at risk of committing suicide if sent to an American prison, but said she believed that adequate care and safeguards would be put in place to prevent his death, even though the US government had made no legal assurances.
Love told the BBC he wished to stand trial in the UK, following standard due process. “What I am hoping is that the extradition will be refused and that, like anybody else arrested in the UK, I will face a trial here and I will be able to make a case. But I wouldn’t have that prospect in America,” he said.
“The problem is that I’m facing 99 years in prison in America, where medical experts have testified that there is a serious risk that I’ll die,” he added.
Love has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, profound and chronic depression, and antibiotic-resistant eczema that requires extensive daily treatment.
At the hearing in July, Love’s father, Reverend Alexander Love, spoke of his concerns that his son might not receive adequate psychiatric care and protection in a US prison. Reverend Love, who is a chaplain in a British prison, spoke of the disparities between the British and American penal systems.
Following Rudd’s decision, Reverend Love told the Press Association of his deep disappointment and distress. “It was going to happen – it was inevitable – but it’s still painful,” he said. “I cannot begin to express how much sorrow it causes me.”
He added: “All we are asking for is British justice for a British citizen.”
Protest against death of Aaron Swartz
The US alleges that Love committed hacking offences as part of #OpLastResort, an online protest at the death of Aaron Swartz in January 2013. Swartz was an American internet pioneer and political activist who took his own life when facing the prospect of being tried by the US judicial system. At his hearing, Love declared himself deeply affected by Swartz’s death.
Love’s case is the first substantive test of the ‘forum bar’, a measure introduced by former home secretary Theresa May when she ruled in favour of Gary McKinnon in 2012. McKinnon, who was also accused of hacking into key American strategic institutions, has called for the extradition request to be refused. McKinnon’s legal challenge lasted 10 years.
The forum bar was intended to protect vulnerable people who might be better tried in the UK. The measure was introduced into the Extradition Act, which limits the powers of the home secretary to interfere with judicial decisions. The change protects those who the courts have refused to extradite, but reduces the likelihood of benevolent intervention by the government.
MPs show support for Lauri Love
In October 2016, a cross-party coalition of 105 MPs, including 39 Conservative MPs, signed a letter to US president Barack Obama, calling on him to withdraw the extradition request for Lauri Love.
David Burrowes, Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate, who led the parliamentary appeal for Love, as well as the campaign for Gary McKinnon, told the Press Association that he hoped Love would win on appeal. “We hope the High Court realises it would be disproportionate to extradite Mr Love and risk his life,” he said.
He added that president Obama might reverse the extradition request as one of his final acts of office. Failing that, he said Donald Trump, the US president elect, could choose to do so in January.
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.
- UK MPs across all parties call for US president to save activist from extradition to the US on hacking charges on humanitarian grounds.
“Donald Trump is trying to show his fair mindedness, care and concern, and there is no better way to show that than to stop Lauri Love’s extradition,” said Burrowes.
Barry Sheerman, Labour MP for Huddersfield and one of the other MPs who wrote to president Obama, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the home secretary’s decision, but that he intended to add more signatories to the letter. “The pressure continues, we won’t give up,” he told the Press Association.
Sarah Harrison, acting director for the Courage Foundation, which has been supporting Love’s legal campaign against extradition, said: “I am dismayed to hear that Lauri Love’s extradition request has been approved, as this puts him directly in harm’s way and fails to protect his human rights. The home secretary’s decision upholds a one-sided extradition treaty that leaves UK citizens without proper protections against the threat of US prosecution.”
Harrison said the home secretary’s decision in the McKinnon case should have been followed for Lauri Love. “Theresa May set a good example by protecting Gary McKinnon back in 2012. For a home secretary in her government now to willingly send a brilliant and vulnerable UK citizen to Donald Trump’s America beggars belief,” she said.