A British man accused of hacking U.S. government and military computers told a London court Wednesday he fears being extradited to America would cause him to commit suicide.
Lauri Love, a 31-year-old electrical engineering student, is wanted in New Jersey, New York and Virginia in connection with a slew of security breaches attributed to the hacktivist movement Anonymous. The U.S. Department of Justice has accused Mr. Love of participating in cyberattacks that targeted computers used by the FBI, NASA and Missile Defense Agency, among others, and has asked for British authorities to send him abroad to stand trial.
Testifying in his defense during a two-day extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court this week, Mr. Love told District Judge Nina Tempia that he fears being tried overseas would cause a deterioration in health that may end in suicide.
Doctors have diagnosed Mr. Love with Asperger’s syndrome, depression and anxiety-triggered eczema. Defense witnesses argued his mental health would inevitably deteriorate if he were to face imprisonment and the possibility of solitary confinement thousands of miles from home.
“Sadly, what I expect [in an American prison are] the urges, the depression, the helplessness. … I will exercise what remains of my self-control, and I will take my life,” Mr. Love testified, The Guardian reported. “It would result in a tragedy that could be avoided by not having me kidnapped. … If I was sent to America those urges to bring my life to an end would be much stronger.”
His attorneys said Mr. Love risks being sentenced to up to 99 years in federal prison if convicted in the U.S. on felony hacking charges. In addition to medical professionals familiar with Mr. Love’s health, witnesses called during this week’s hearing included individuals who have intimately followed the prosecutions of hacktivists Jeremy Hammond and Barrett Brown.
They are two Americans currently serving 10- and 5-year prison sentences, respectively, for convictions under the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) handed down as a result of their roles with Anonymous.
“The U.S. government has a nasty reputation for using extradition process and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to chill activism,” said Mustafa Al-Bassam, a British security researcher who pleaded guilty in 2013 to participating in hacks carried out by LulzSec, an offshoot of Anonymous.
“It’s unlikely that Lauri will get a fair trial in the U.S. given the DOJ’s history to use the CFAA in an overreaching way, and due to the relatively unproportional sentences people who have been prosecuted with the CFAA have received,” Mr. Al-Bassam told The Washington Times.
“I don’t entertain any prospects of justice in America,” Mr. Love told The Guardian. “If any crimes were committed, they were committed in the U.K. … I can’t imagine anything worse than being in a U.S. prison.”
Mr. Love’s argument bears similarities to the case against Gary McKinnon, an autistic British man was accused in 2002 of hacking Pentagon and NASA computer systems. In 2012, U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May determined that extraditing Mr. McKinnon would likely lead him to attempt suicide and would be “incompatible” with his human rights.
Speaking to The Independent this week, Mr. Love said he may ask the British politician to consider making a similar finding with respect to his own case if necessary.
“I would ask her if she feels she has an obligation and a duty of care to U.K. citizens to shield them from relatively barbaric treatment,” Mr. Love said. “I have not been accused of any violent offending but am facing potentially the rest of my life in a foreign prison where I have no friends and family. I think this is something to consider and try to avoid.”
While on the stand Wednesday, however, Mr. Love was accused by an American prosecutor of using his medical conditions to avoid facing responsibility.
“You have, in the public eye and in preparing your case, exaggerated those symptoms to the medical profession,” asked Peter Caldwell on behalf of U.S. prosecutors. “Are you seeking to promote your personal difficulties as a shield to avoid extradition?”
“It is up to you if you want to call into question the veracity of medical experts. If the thrust of the argument is that we collaborated to create misleading medical reports, that is disappointing,” Mr. Love responded.
The Crown Prosecution Service told Ars Technica that it would not comment on ongoing proceedings.