Lauri Love is in a lot of trouble. The British-Finnish computer expert is accused of breaking into several U.S. government systems, including those operated by the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Missile Defense Agency, and NASA. Currently, he is in the midst of a fraught extradition battle. Over the next two days, a judge will hear his appeal to stay in the U.K., far from the reaches of the American judicial system.
If Love is extradited, he could face a 99 year prison sentence — something which most people would agree is obscenely excessive for a computer crime.
The U.S. government claims Love was able to access “confidential data.” In the extradition request, they describe this as “telephone numbers, social security numbers, credit card details and salary information of employees, health care professionals, and service personnel.”
You can argue that 99 years is wholly excessive for what amounts to the theft of some credit card and phone numbers. It is. The UK’s Computer Misuse Act 1990, which is the main body of law surrounding cybercrime, imposes a maximum 14 year sentence. That’s only in cases where human life is at risk, or national security is threatened; typically, it’s much, much lower.
You could even argue that since Lauri Love allegedly committed his crime from the UK, he ought to be tried at home. He should be, and indeed, he is currently heavily lobbying to be tried in the United Kingdom.
You can argue that the U.S. justice system is cruel and draconian. It definitely is. American courts have a conviction rate of roughly 93 percent (in comparison, U.K. Crown Court conviction rates were 80 percent in 2009), and the widespread practice of plea bargaining often sees innocent people go to jail, as they try to avoid the crushingly punitive prison sentences that are meted out.
Love also questions his ability to get a fair trial in the U.S. He would cease to be entitled to legal aid, and would be in the unenviable position of having to fund his defense himself. He also argued that he would be ill-equipped to prepare a defense compared to the U.K., where he would be on bail and would have access to a computer.
But the biggest reason that Love shouldn’t be sent to the U.S. to face trial is that if extradited, there is a very real risk to his life.
Love has been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, autism, and exhibits “obsessive behaviors.” In his first extradition hearing, held in 2016, psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen described him as “a man with several severe disabilities” and told the court that there was a significant chance that Lauri Love would attempt to commit suicide if taken away from his family.
“Lauri is aware that the authorities will try to stop him from committing suicide and so he has planned out in great detail how he will do it in a way that will evade detection,” he said.
“He doesn’t want to die but his mental health is such that the thought of being ripped from the support network of his family is unbearable. He is at even higher risk of suicide if he is put in solitary confinement.”
Baron-Cohen is a qualified clinical psychologist and a professor at the University of Cambridge. Suffice to say, he knows what he’s talking about.
Love’s family members have also expressed concern that, if extradited, he could harm himself.
Writing in Computer Weekly, his sister, Natasha Love, said that “he [Lauri] absolutely would not be able to cope with the conditions in US prisons,” adding that “the way they treat people who are a suicide risk in the US is not going to improve his condition.
It’s worth remembering if the U.K. refuses extradition, it would not be the first time. There’s a precedent.
Gary McKinnon is a Scottish computer hacker who spent nearly a decade fighting extradition to the U.S. over charges of breaking into NASA and military systems. The parallels between McKinnon and Love are scary: both were diagnosed with autism, and both were considered suicide risks if extradited.
In the case of McKinnon, he was spared at the eleventh hour after then-Home Secretary Theresa May blocked the extradition on the basis that he suffered from profound mental health issues, and there was a significant risk to his life.
The UK government should also refuse Love’s extradition on the same grounds. Because to do the opposite would be willful complicity in sending a gifted young man to a probable death.