Gary McKinnon: Why Lauri Love should be spared the nightmare of extradition

Computer activist Lauri Love should be spared a life sentence in a US jail, says former hacker Gary McKinnon

Lauri Love is one of the latest Britons to face the possibility of a long prison sentence in the US. He is being threatened with 99 years in jail and a fine of up to $9m, on the basis of evidence that he has not been allowed to see or challenge.

I went through my own nightmare fighting extradition for 10 years, from 2002 to 2012. Watching Lauri and his family interviewed on television brings back painful memories of an experience made worse by flawed legislation.

Under the US-UK extradition treaty, the US can request the extradition of a UK citizen based on untested evidence. The UK has no equivalent right to extradite Americans for alleged crimes committed in breach of UK law.

The whole basis for my extradition was the alleged damage I caused to US government computer systems, which, it was claimed, would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair. The “evidence” provided by the US was later described by the Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) as hearsay, and inadmissible in a UK court.

Extradition treaty is deeply flawed

This admission by the CPS made it clear that officials in Washington have the power to extradite any UK citizen on the basis of allegations alone.

This deeply flawed extradition treaty has been misused time and time again. Why the UK agreed to it has never been disclosed. Tellingly, the first drafts of the treaty were written using American spelling. Even Baroness Scotland who was fronting the treaty’s introduction in the UK called it “necessarily imbalanced”.

US government prosecutors routinely overstate the seriousness of hacking offences, hugely inflate the costs of “repairing” systems and do their best to make the defendant appear highly dangerous.

“What effect did Lauri’s alleged actions have on the US? No one died, no one was hurt. There is no suggestion that he committed fraud, acted for personal gain, or exposed personal information”

Gary McKinnon, former hacker

We’ve seen it before. Mathew Bevan was called “the worst threat to national security since Hitler”, after hacking US computer systems from a Commodore Amiga computer. My own intrusions were labelled “the biggest military hack ever”.

The US authorities should be spending their energies on improving the security of their own networks, which are breached many times each year both by amateur hackers and foreign governments.

What effect did Lauri’s alleged actions have on the US? No one died, no one was hurt. He is accused of looking around computer systems and taking copies of documents. There is no suggestion that he committed fraud, acted for personal gain, or exposed personal information.

Extradition madness

The effect of extradition is corrosive. Speaking from my own experience, the incessant worrying eats away at your nerves. The possibility of spending decades, possibly the rest of your life, in a foreign jail always haunts you.

You develop your own form of madness. It’s a nightmare that wages a war of attrition on your already damaged mental health. And one of the worst things is watching the destructive effect it has on your family.

I made up my mind that I couldn’t go to the US if I lost the case. I bought enough potassium chloride – the third chemical in the trio of lethal injections used in US executions – to stop my heart. I knew that otherwise I would be put under pressure to plead guilty and threatened with a disproportionate jail sentence if I did not agree.

Mentally ill people can be treated like animals once incarcerated. Prison staff are not able to provide the medical or psychological attention they need, though the US authorities promise they will. It’s hard enough serving a long sentence in a foreign jail, but when you’re on the autistic spectrum, like myself and Lauri Love, it’s many times harder.

Courage to say no

I was fortunate that Theresa May, then home secretary, had the strength to make one of the most compassionate political decisions ever. I can only hope that for Lauri and his family the horror will end soon, and that the current home secretary, Amber Rudd, together with the courts, will display the same courage by refusing Lauri Love’s extradition.

I think it fitting to finish with a quote from Lauri’s father, who spoke after a judge had allowed his son’s extradition in September 2016:

“We’ve had a big discussion about who can come in to this country. Let’s have a big discussion about who can be taken out.”

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