'I won’t go to America,’ says Lauri Love. ‘But I might die – that’s my alternative.’ Long-term imprisonment in an American jail or suicide: such is the 32-year-old British hacker’s bleak assessment of his options as he contemplates his future from a Bayswater café.
Two years ago, officers from the Metropolitan Police Service appeared at the door of the Suffolk home where Love lives with his parents to arrest him on an extradition request from the US. His alleged crime? Hacking into dozens of government computer systems, including those of the FBI, US Army and Department of Defense, stealing ‘massive amounts’ of data and defacing official websites.
Last September, Westminster Magistrates’ Court granted the extradition request. If found guilty of the charges, Love faces up to 99 years in prison and $9 million (£7 million) in fines. He is appealing the decision in the High Court in November on the grounds that he has Asperger’s syndrome and severe depression, and would be a suicide risk in the care of a US penal system unable to deal with his conditions.
If Love’s plight sounds familiar, that’s perhaps because it has echoes of the case of Gary McKinnon, the British hacker who was arrested in 2002 for allegedly penetrating the defences of Nasa and Pentagon computers in pursuit of evidence of UFOs. He believed the US government was hiding extraterrestrial technology that might solve the world’s energy problems.
Three years later, McKinnon was charged by US authorities who applied for his extradition from the UK. The case dragged on for years, during which time McKinnon, like Love, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. By 2012, when Theresa May, then Home Secretary, ruled McKinnon would not, after all, be extradited, he was holed up in his house, researching suicide methods.
But their cases differ in one crucial respect. After ruling on McKinnon’s case, May introduced legislation that transferred the final decision-making power to the courts, making it difficult for the current Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, to intervene in Love’s case. All now rests on the High Court’s decision in November.