UK won’t extradite suspected hacker to US

The UK High Court upheld an appeal from a suspected hacker against his extradition to the United States, the latest landmark ruling in a controversial treaty that advocacy groups say is skewed in favor of the American justice system.

British-Finnish dual national Lauri Love, 32, suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and depression. UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd approved a request for his extradition in November 2016. His lawyers argued that extraditing him to the United States, where he could eventually face up to 99 years in prison on hacking charges, would create a high risk of his committing suicide.

Alleged hacker Lauri Love. By Geni via Wikimedia Commons
Alleged hacker Lauri Love. By Geni via Wikimedia Commons

Love is accused of being behind a series of hacks against U.S. institutions, including the FBI and NASA, as part of “hacktivist” collective Anonymous. His case has drawn intense media attention (Guardian) and his supporters, who say he could be tried on the same charges in the UK, gathered outside the High Court on the day the judgment was handed down.

Outside the court following the judgement, Love said he hoped the case “sets a precedent for the future for anyone in the same position that they will be tried here.”

The case was closely watched by human rights groups who say the U.S.-UK extradition system, established under a 2003 treaty, is slanted in favor of U.S. authorities, and does not provide UK citizens with the protections they are due under UK law.

Love has been the focus of media attention before. In May 2017, he “was one of a group of British hackers and computer scientists who worked around the clock to disarm the WannaCry attack” (Guardian). The worldwide cyberattack by the WannaCry ransomware cryptoworm targeted computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system in 150 countries, and caused extensive damage to UK’s National Health Service computer system.

Imbalanced partnership?

In 2003, the UK and U.S. governments agreed a new extradition treaty, which was eventually adopted by both governments and came into effect in 2007.

Campaigners from human rights group Liberty point out that when a UK judge considers a request, they’re not required to consider the evidence, whereas U.S. judges are, automatically giving U.S. citizens more protection against extradition.

This means that UK citizens can be extradited to face trial without authorities having to prove they have a strong case. In practice, this means that during trial proceedings for a case in which a U.S. citizen might be granted bail, UK suspects often have to stay in prison in the United States as they have no U.S. residence.

Liberty also argues that the treaty is flawed as it does not require judges to assess which country is the most appropriate forum for the case being tried – suspects can be extradited to the United States when the crime was committed by a UK citizen while in the UK.

Campaigners also say the treaty risks breaching the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), particularly its protection of an individual’s right to family life. This has not generally been upheld by courts, though some cases have seen extradition blocked if there’s a risk the defendant will be subject to the death penalty, which is barred under the ECHR.

A review of the system published by the House of Lords in 2015 found there was “sufficient opportunities to prevent inappropriate extradition.”

On its website, the U.S. embassy in London denies that the treaty is slanted in America’s favor, and points out that a 2011 review carried out by former high court judge Sir Scott Baker found there was no imbalance.

Without referring to specific cases, the embassy says that extenuating circumstances such as medical conditions are taken into consideration by U.S. courts, “just as they are in the UK.”

Washington-based conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation published a report in 2012 rebutting criticism of the treaty and calling on the UK to “regularly reaffirm both that the treaty works and that the U.S. is a valued and trusted extradition partner.”

The Heritage Foundation argued that most of the complaints about the extradition system are “erroneous” and promoted by people with specific political agendas related to the cases in question.

Key extradition cases

  • Gary McKinnon was indicted by a U.S. court in 2002. Like Love he was suspected of multiple hacking offences and was seen as a high suicide risk due to suffering from Aspergers and depression.
    • McKinnon lost his extradition trial and a number of appeals. However in 2012, then Home Secretary Theresa May blocked the extradition, saying that due to his medical conditions there was a high chance that McKinnon would attempt to commit suicide if sent to a U.S. prison. Charges were not brought in the UK, as authorities said the case would be too difficult to pursue, as the evidence was in the United States.
  • Ian Norris was extradited in 2010 after a drawn-out appeals process. His extradition was initially blocked by the Law Lords (then the highest level of the UK judiciary) because the U.S. allegations related to price-fixing, which was not a crime in the UK at the time.
    • Norris was eventually extradited on obstruction of justice charges, in 2010. Despite his lawyers’ concerns that U.S. courts might bring the price-fixing charges again once he was at trial, they did not and he was given an 18-month sentence by a Philadelphia court (Telegraph).
  • Richard O’Dwyer was extradited to the U.S. in 2012 on charges of copyright infringement for setting up “linking” website TVShack. He agreed to a deal with prosecutors in New York and avoided prison time.
    • Many of O’Dwyer’s supporters argued that he should not face charges under U.S. copyright laws for offenses that were not illegal in the UK. Judge Quentin Purdy rejected those arguments at his extradition hearing, finding that the UK legislation was sufficiently similar to the U.S. laws under which O’Dwyer was being charged.
  • David McIntyre was extradited in July 2014 on fraud charges. His appeals failed despite his lawyers saying (Guardian) that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and was therefore a suicide risk if sent to a U.S. prison.
  • Babar Ahmad was extradited in 2012 on charges of supporting terrorism through a website he set up in 1996. He fought to be tried in the UK for eight years, and his case received heightened publicity after police paid him £60,000 in damages, despite officers being cleared of abusing him in custody.

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