Prime minister Theresa May has failed to ask US president Donald Trump to allow Lauri Love, the British engineering student accused hacking US government computer systems, to be tried in the UK – despite serious concerns about his health – his supporters claim.
More than 70 members of Parliament have written to the attorney general Jeremy Wright and the prime minister, questioning why the 32-year-old engineering student cannot be tried in the UK courts over US hacking allegations.
Love faces a 99-year prison sentence, huge fines and the prospect of long-running trials in three US states, after being accused of breaking into computer systems belonging to US government agencies, including the FBI, the Federal Reserve Bank and the Missile Defense Agency.
“If Mr Love has committed a crime, he should be prosecuted and justice should be served. 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 who judge Mr Love’s suicide risk to be very high,” the MPs wrote in a two-page letter (shown in full below).
Love’s case will be heard in the court of appeal on 27 and 28 November 2017 in front of lord chief justice Ian Burnett. It will be the first test in the appeal court of the forum bar (see box below) – introduced following Gary McKinnon’s 10-year battle against extradition to the US to face hacking charges – to give vulnerable defendants the right to argue that their cases should be heard in the UK.
Love’s legal team is expected to argue that a judgement made last year in favour of his extradition did not properly consider the forum bar, and is expected to consider new evidence on the harsh conditions inside US prisons that mean Love would be unlikely to receive the care he needs for his mental and physical health conditions.
UK has prosecuted 13 hackers for offences in US
The UK has prosecuted at least 13 computer hackers who have been accused of illegally accessing US computer systems.
They include members of the notorious LulzSec hacking group, Topiary and Mustafa Al-Bassam, who were treated more humanely than hackers prosecuted in the US, who often receive draconian prison sentences under the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Love would be the first UK computer hacker to be extradited to face prosecution in the US, where he faces the prospect of multimillion-dollar fines and a lifetime prison sentence, if the extradition is upheld.
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.
The lead signatories of the letter are Barry Sheerman, Heidi Allen and Matt Hancock, acting in his capacity as Love’s constituent MP.
“Many of these 13 cases did not involve individuals who have significant mental health issues, nor Asperger syndrome, and were not at high risk of suicide, yet they were not extradited,” the MPs wrote.
“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 prosecuting, sentencing and rehabilitating individuals who have committed computer hacking offences against the US?”
Extradition could have ‘fatal consequences’
The MPs pointed out that Love has a long history of serious mental health issues, depression and some episodes of psychosis. Like McKinnon, who was granted a reprieve from extradition by the then home secretary, Theresa May, Love has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism. He also suffers with severe stress-related, antibiotic-resistant eczema, which requires regular courses of steroids.
“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,” said the letter.
In September 2016, district judge Nina Tempia said she was satisfied that there were safeguards in place in transit and in the US prison system to prevent Love from taking his own life, but acknowledged that there was a substantial risk that Love would commit suicide if extradited, in a ruling in Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
Love is completing his studies in electrical engineering at the University of Suffolk, and is setting up a social enterprise, known as Bogaty Hack, after helping coordinate volunteers in responding to the WannaCry ransomware outbreak earlier this year.
“If prosecuted in this country, Mr Love has the potential to return to life as a productive member of society,” the MPs argued.
The MPs urged the attorney general to make representations to the US, to request that they take into account all of the medical evidence and either cede jurisdiction to the UK or agree a deferred prosecution agreement, “preventing this vulnerable and mentally unwell man from being placed in a situation where he would most probably take his own life”.
“Mr Love should face prosecution for any crimes committed in his home country where his suicide risk is exponentially reduced,” they wrote.
The forum bar
The forum bar came into force in October 2013, as an addition to the Extradition Act 2003, following controversial requests from the US to extradite hacker Gary McKinnon, who won widespread public and political support in the UK.
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.
The court considers a limited range of factors when deciding whether to halt an extradition request.
These include where 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, and whether UK law enforcement has decided not to bring proceedings.
Lauri Love’s case will be the first real test of the forum bar, and will show whether it offers UK citizens any meaningful protection from almost automatic extradition following a request from the US.
Love’s case has close parallels with McKinnon, who was also diagnosed with Asperger’s, and was eventually allowed to remain in the UK.
For more information on the forum bar, see Norton Rose Fulbright.
This is the second time MPs have intervened on Love’s behalf. More than 100 UK members of Parliament signed a letter to Barack Obama as US president in October 2016, urging him to drop an extradition request against Love.
Naomi Colvin of the Courage Foundation, which is backing Love’s defence fund, said the UK government appears to have made no attempt to have Love’s trial heard in the UK.
“To the best of my knowledge, and that of Lauri’s legal team and his family, the UK government has not made any kind of representation to Donald Trump, asking for us to try Lauri here instead of him being extradited to the United States,” she said.
Parallels with Gary McKinnon
Love’s case has strong parallels with that of Mckinnon, who was spared extradition following a 10-year legal battle, following the intervention of Theresea May as home secretary.
Writing for Computer Weekly last year, McKinnon, who now runs his own IT business, said the threat of extradition had a corrosive effect on his own well-being.
“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.”
Love is accused of taking part in #Oplastresort, an online protest against the death of internet pioneer Aaron Swartz, after he was prosecuted under the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFFA) – in what critics claim was a politically motivated case.
Click on image below to read the MPs’ letter in full.