Lauri Love, the alleged British hacker facing extradition to the United States on multiple charges after the country accused him of breaking into top federal computer networks, will now have a chance to appeal his extradition to the UK's High Court.
Britain's Home Secretary Amber Rudd authorized Love's extradition last September, but Love's defence argued that he would not be able to cope with a maximum sentence of 99 years in prison if found guilty in a US court.
The US Department of Justice believes Love was part of a series of hacks on US systems that were carried out in retaliation for the arrest and subsequent suicide of internet activist Aaron Swartz, who had been facing up to 35 years in prison for downloading millions of academic journal articles so he could share them, flouting restrictive copyright laws.
A group of hackers associated with Anonymous allegedly decided to fight back against what they saw as Swartz's mistreatment. In 2012, the Department of Justice says, the group started hacking into a series of federal computer networks, including those belonging to the US military and the country's defense department. Then, two years after Swartz was charged, he took his own life.
The hacks in his name became bolder. Activists penetrated other federal agencies such as the US Sentencing Commission website, which briefly included a Nyan Cat-themed rendition of the retro video game Asteroids.
The Justice Department believes Love was part of these hacks. They're demanding that he be extradited to face charges in the United States, where he faces federal charges in the districts of Virginia, New Jersey and Manhattan. But Love, who has Asperger's syndrome, depression, and a stress-related skin condition, says his health will only get worse in an American prison cell. He says if he's extradited to face the American justice system he'll be at risk of suicide
With that in mind, Love spoke to Motherboard this week about cybersecurity in 2017, why the Pentagon should offer him a job, and what comes next.
Motherboard: Can you tell me a bit about what Aaron Swartz meant to you?
Love: Aaron was the best person that I knew of. He was a genius and he worked tirelessly to make the world better. I knew him—I interacted with him through a cultural forum online run by a friend of mine. I wouldn't say we were close friends but I had [enormous] amounts of respect for what he did. And also just the vindictiveness of his prosecution; it was very clear to everyone who found out about the case that this was not a criminal matter.
Why is the US so hard on hackers?
A lot of it is the need to assert authority in the digital realm—and this idea that there should be no meaningful protest online. The reason that the civil rights movement progressed in the US is because people had sit-ins, because they stayed on the bus and did not get off when they were asked to leave,because they faced the police and the water hoses and the dogs in the streets. Now the internet is central, [but] if people blockade a website in the way that you might march outside a building, that's considered to be a computer crime.
You mention similarities between online protest and a blockade on the street. But one of the indictments suggested you collected confidential information about people's jobs and their social security numbers. Do you think there's a line for what is dissent, and what affects other people's lives?
Yeah. What that speaks to is the poor state of the security in these systems. And I won't downplay the seriousness of the intrusions that are alleged to have happened but the issue is that information needed to be better secured.
Nowadays you can actually get bug bounties by hacking the Pentagon. So some of the things I'm accused of doing, had I done them this year by playing by the rules and passing a security clearance, they would pay me—or another person that had proved those concepts. So in a sense the US federal government got some free threat intelligence.
I don't think it's alleged that any fraud happened as a consequence of the intrusions. The cost to make the site secure arguably should have been spent up front. It's one thing having some hacktivists allegedly demonstrate an insecurity. The next person to demonstrate that could be working for a hostile foreign intelligence agency or they could be criminal fraudsters.
You've been given the opportunity to appeal your extradition; what does that mean for you now?
Well it means I'm not getting kidnapped—which was kind of starting to press on me quite heavily in terms of stress. I can breathe a bit of a sigh of relief for a few months' reprieve. I think it's good that the appeal will be heard, because we had quite a strong case in the district court, despite the prosecutor questioning my mental health diagnoses, [claiming] how lovely it is to be in the US federal justice detention system, saying the sentences aren't that draconian—you know, 'Anyone can do 99 years, it'll be over before you know it!' Hopefully the High Court is now empowered to find the right verdict for the appeal.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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