I won’t go to America,’ says Lauri Love. ‘But I might die – that’s my alternative.’ Long-term imprisonment in an American jail or suicide: such is the 32-year-old British hacker’s bleak assessment of his options as he contemplates his future from a Bayswater café. Two years ago, officers from the Metropolitan Police Service appeared at the door of the Suffolk home where Love lives with his parents to arrest him on an extradition request from the US. His alleged crime? Hacking into dozens of government computer systems, including those of the FBI, US Army and Department of Defense, stealing ‘massive amounts’ of data and defacing official websites.
Last September, Westminster Magistrates’ Court granted the extradition request. If found guilty of the charges, Love faces up to 99 years in prison and $9 million (£7 million) in fines. He is appealing the decision in the High Court in November on the grounds that he has Asperger’s syndrome and severe depression, and would be a suicide risk in the care of a US penal system unable to deal with his conditions.
The burden of Love’s drawn-out legal battle is all too apparent. His hands shake and his skin is pockmarked with antibiotic-resistant eczema, which flared up following the decision to extradite him. After the ruling, Love was suspended from his electrical engineering course at Suffolk University and his mental health declined. ‘It’s a bit morbid to count the number of times you’ve had suicidal thoughts, but it was getting to be six to 12 times a day at a peak last winter,’ he says. If Love’s plight sounds familiar, that’s perhaps because it has echoes of the case of Gary McKinnon, the British hacker who was arrested in 2002 for allegedly penetrating the defences of Nasa and Pentagon computers in pursuit of evidence of UFOs. He believed the US government was hiding extraterrestrial technology that might solve the world’s energy problems.