Lauri Love suicide fear if sent to US for hacking trials

An extradition hearing in London today heard claims that Lauri Love would kill himself if extradited to the US to face trial for allegedly hacking several US federal agencies.

Lauri Love outside Westminster Magistrates' Court today
Lauri Love outside Westminster Magistrates' Court today

The legal team defending alleged hacker Lauri Love today argued that there is a significant chance that he would kill himself if extradited to the United States.

In submissions and testimony to Westminster Magistrates' Court today, they presented testimony from his parents and experts that his mental state – a result of severe Asperger's Syndrome and depression coupled with chronic eczema and asthma which were exacerbated by stress – was too fragile to withstand extradition.

Last month, Lauri Love was at the same court arguing against a demand by the National Crime Agency (NCA) that he reveal the encryption keys to data on hard drives belonging to him which are currently being held by the police. He will return to the court in late July to continue his bid to have the property returned.

Meanwhile, today, his father, Rev Alexander Love, told the court that Lauri depended on the support of his family, with whom he still lives at the age of 31, to help maintain his mental equilibrium and encourage him to take care of himself.

Lauri Love faces extradition requests from three courts in the United States: the District of New Jersey, the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia.

The alleged hacking cases relate to an online protest dubbed #OpLastResort. The protest was launched in response to the suicide of internet activist Aaron Swartz who had been indicted by US federal authorities for downloading academic articles from JSTOR via the MIT university network. It is alleged that Love hacked into the FBI, the Missile Defence Agency and NASA and downloaded data.

The defence invoked the “forum bar” to challenge the extradition request. The forum bar is a statutory bar to extradition that a requested person can call upon to argue against extradition. It was enacted following the perceived imbalance in the UK's extradition arrangements with the US following the Natwest Three and Gary McKinnon cases in which it was argued that some of the alleged crimes had taken place in the UK meaning the US was not the proper forum in which to take the case to trial.

Barrister Ben Cooper, acting for Love, told the court that it had a certain degree of freedom in interpreting the criteria for applying the forum bar. In particular, he focused on the “requested person's connections with the UK”, interpreting this to mean that the impact of extradition on Love's mental health could be given the greatest weight if the judge so chose.

He called a number of expert witnesses to testify to Love's mental health and the conditions that he would likely face while being held in pre-trial detention and, should he be convicted, in the mainstream prison system.

He argued that Love's Asperger's Syndrome was severe enough that it would cause him to exhibit behaviour that US prison officers would find intolerable, leading most likely to being placed in solitary confinement.

Evidence was presented to the court that the US prison system lacks the numbers of psychologists to provide a safe and supportive environment for prisoners suffering from mental illness. Dr Thomas Kucharski, professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York in New York City and a former prison psychologist said that there were 600 psychologists serving 122 prisons with 205,000 prisoners.

He said most facilities were lucky if they had three psychologists who were able to see each inmate for more than 10 minutes per month.

Given Love's mental health history, Kucharski said he would probably be placed on suicide watch from the moment he arrived at a federal prison and due to his international notoriety would likely not be taken off.

The extradition case continues tomorrow with further testimony.

Following the conclusion of the case, the judge will review the evidence and then send her recommendations to the home secretary who will take the final decision on extradition.