Lauri Love at risk of suicide if extradited to US, Brit court hears

Westminster Magistrates to decide if Feds can get their hands on alleged hacker

Crown courtroom. Pic: Shutterstock
Pic: Shutterstock

Alleged hacker Lauri Love, of Stradishall, Suffolk, who is said to have hacked into a number of US government agencies' websites, is at risk of killing himself if British authorities allow him to be extradited to the US, a court heard yesterday.

Westminster Magistrates' Court in London began to hear the extradition request against 31-year-old Love on 28 June. The request was filed by the US government.

The court heard from many of the defence's witnesses that Love has a history of mental illness. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the University of Cambridge's Autism Research Centre, said, in his view, “there is absolutely no question that [Love] has Asperger's [Syndrome]” as well as severe depression and aggressive anxiety-related eczema.

Witnesses including Baron-Cohen and Love's father, the Reverend Alexander Love, a Baptist minister and prison chaplain, regarded Love as being at “very high” risk of committing suicide if imprisoned within the US system, where he would be in detention facilities which are said to be much less ably equipped to deal with mental health issues – and are much further away from Love's vital support network, including his parents.

Making the case for extraditing Love, the Crown Prosecution Service's representative alleged that a confidential FBI informant with access to a restricted IRC channel had provided US authorities with chat logs in which a person going by handles including “nsh” had discussed accessing the government sites.

He added that during the search of Love's home, which he shares with his parents, one of his computers was found logged into IRC using this nickname, and alleged that Love had been found by the NCA's forensics team to possess stolen data related to hacking of the US Federal Reserve.

Parallels and legal frontiers

Love's situation is comparable with that of Gary McKinnon, who in 2012, after a decade of legal battles, had his extradition to the US on hacking charges refused by the then-new Home Secretary, Theresa May, who said the risk of him committing suicide if extradited made the process incompatible with his human rights.

Responding to critics who said the UK's extradition agreement with the US was imbalanced in favour of the Americans, May introduced the so-called “forum bar”, which in section 83A of the Extradition Act 2003 prevents extradition if it “would not be in the interests of justice.” Love's case is expected to be the first significant test of the forum bar.

In addition, the case will also test section 91 of the Act, which allows the judge to block an extradition attempt if the defendant's physical or mental condition “is such that it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him”. The court heard Love's “uncontrollable high risk of suicide” was cause to invoke section 91.

The defence has claimed that Love's extradition would not only be inconsistent with the forum bar, but unfair when at least 12 other cases of British defendants who were charged with securing unauthorised access to computer systems in foreign countries have been prosecuted in the UK. Love's team has argued that his mental health and human rights would be unduly affected by extraditing him to the US.

The hearing is expected to conclude today, though at the time of writing it is running behind schedule and may continue until Thursday 30 June. The Register's reporter continues to attend and the hearing continues. ®

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