Lauri Love, the 34-year-old computer activist who faces a UK police investigation into allegations that he hacked into US government computers, appeared in court today arguing for the return of computer equipment seized by the National Crime Agency (NCA).
The NCA has confirmed that it is working with US prosecutors to bring charges against Love five-and-a-half years after he was arrested in a raid on his parents’ home in Stradishall, Suffolk.
Love’s legal action comes nearly a year after the Court of Appeal quashed a US extradition request against Love, having heard evidence that he would not be properly cared for in the US prison system and would be at high risk of suicide. The court urged the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to begin a prosecution in the UK.
Love is using the Police Property Act 1897 to bring legal action against the National Crime Agency to recover his computer equipment and the data contained on its hard drive.
Representing himself at a hearing at Hendon Magistrates’ Court, London, Love asked the court to use its discretion to return a Fujitsu Siemens laptop, an Acer Computer Tower and a Compaq computer tower, along with an SD card and hard drives.
In written submissions, approved for disclosure by the judge, Love said it was clear he had no relevant criminal record, nor history of offending, and had undertaken no actions to suggest he would commit criminal offences.
He argued that claims by the NCA that the alleged encrypted contents of his computer equipment would enable or facilitate the commission of offences was entirely “hypothetical”.
Love said in written submissions that the NCA would “undoubtedly have made multiple forensic copies” of the data and had, on multiple occasions, offered to return his property after “wiping” its contents, so it was clear that a copy would suffice for any police investigation.
At an earlier hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 18 December 2018, Love said there was no evidence that his computers contained encrypted data and that under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, the police had a duty to return his property.
Andrew Bird, representing the NCA, said during the December hearing that Love’s computer equipment, which was seized by police in 2013, contained information including “the addresses of police officers subscribed to the Police Oracle and large amounts of information from the US Department of Energy”.
Hendon Magistrates’ Court imposed restrictions against reporting facts and evidence disclosed during today’s hearing on the grounds that it may prejudice a future criminal case against Love if he was prosecuted by the National Crime Agency.
District judge Margot Coleman told the court that it was the default position under the Criminal Procedural Rules that the case should be heard in a closed hearing. She ruled that the court proceed in open court, but imposed reporting restrictions on evidence disclosed in court.
“Mr Love had extradition proceedings, which resulted in him not being extradited to the US. One was on forum [bar] grounds, one was on medical health. No decision has yet been taken whether proceedings will take place in this country. It is for that reason, because of ongoing trial, that I am not prepared to allow evidence to be reported in future because it might compromise a future trial,” judge Coleman said.
Speaking after the hearing, Love, who still faces extradition to the US if he travels outside the UK, said: “This case is important to me, but it has significant ramifications for everyone. The use of strong information security – in other words cryptography – should not be a reason to deprive people of their personal data.
“I would be happy if a side effect of this action is that the NCA recognises that it cannot do nothing indefinitely. At some point I would like to be able to travel internationally and get on with the rest of my life.”
The judge reserved a decision until 19 February at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.