Friday’s ruling by District Judge Nina Tempia at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London, to refer an attempt by US prosecutors to extradite Lauri Love to British Home Secretary Amber Rudd for a decision, could reset the legal precedent in high profile cyber hacktivist cases such as these. Love’s alleged involvement in the systematic hacking of the FBI, Federal Reserve Bank, NASA, US Army, and US Missile Defence Agency computer systems, as part of the Anonymous Hacktivists’ Collective #OpLastResort in 2012 and 2013, has been compared to the case of Gary McKinnon, the self confessed hacker and systems admin arrested in 2002 for what has been described as the “biggest military computer hack of all time” by one BBC journalist.
Although Love and McKinnon are both on record as having to contend with mental health issues, Love is suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, whilst McKinnon, at the time of his extradition proceedings, had likewise been diagnosed with exactly the same form of Autism according to ‘The Daily Telegraph’, McKinnon’s principle legal defence was that he was acting out of curiousity, and not out of malice. Love’s participation in the highly publicized Anonymous #OpLastResort on the other hand may give the U.S. Authorities considerably more leeway when it comes to presenting what the British Home Secretary may consider to be reasonable grounds for extradition when Friday’s ruling ends up on her desk.
Anonymous #OpLastResort was initiated in the wake of the unfortunate suicide of American computer prodigy Aaron Swartz, whose indictment for multiple breaches of copyright in relation to his systematic downloading of academic papers and articles on an industrial scale, was, according to the Guardian newspaper, a ‘vindictive prosecution’ by ‘a politically ambitious federal attorney anxious to make a name for himself.’ Although videos circulated on social media at the time alleged that Swartz was in some way the victim of an FBI Sting in no ways dissimilar to that which was to result in the arrest and imprisonment of FreeAnons Hacktivist Jeremy Hammond for his part in the landmark Stratfor Hack, nothing could be further from the truth.
Aaron Swarz’s indictment was fundamentally as a result of his decision to download the documents that were at the centre of the alleged copyright infringement from the JSTOR website via a strategically placed laptop computer hidden in a closet at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The JSTOR digital library that he had accessed was hidden behind a paywall, but the fact that much of the research that had gone into the documents themselves had originally been funded by taypayers appears to have been his principal motivation. This would have been extremely good grounds from which to mount any sort of legal defence had Swarz decided to stand trial for what he had done, rather than taking his own life as a means of avoiding the vast legal costs generated by the prosecution which would have left him financially crippled for decades.
Love, in complete contrast to this, had taken part in a large scale internationally coordinated cyber attack against a number of key U.S. Government institutions that had no involvement whatsoever in the death of Aaron Swartz. If he and his associates had gone after JSTOR and MIT for their involvement in a malicious prosecution, in relation to an offence that had resulted in no financial loss to any of the injured parties whatsoever, he might have considerably more success in attempting to get the U.S. Government’s extradition application overturned.
Of more significance still is the fact that at least part of #OpLastResort may have involved the active participation of forces directly hostile to the Anonymous Collective itself. Within hours of its commencement hackers participating in #OpLastResort had taken down the website of the United States Sentencing Commission. The principal body responsible for the setting of sentencing guidelines for the US Federal Courts. And, within another twenty four hours of that, members of a shady “Emergency Council”, that the video announcing the initiation of the #op claimed supposedly directs operations within the Hacktivist Collective, had e-mailed an “Anonymous Warhead” to the Daily Dot via an Iranian domain.
According to the Daily Dot the leak contained hundreds of names and addresses that had allegedly been obtained via a data breach linked to the United States Marshals Service Federal Witness Protection Program. Most of the information contained in the document is believed to relate to the supervision of witnesses whose identity and whereabouts needs to be kept secret before, during and after giving evidence because of the sensitivity of the testimony that they were instrumental in providing. Owing to the fact that none of the materials at that time being circulated by this so called “Emergency Council” had any relevance whatsoever to the indictment of Aaron Swarz, coupled with the fact the public disclosure of such material could directly result in the deaths of some of those to whom it related, it is safe to assume that those responsible for its release may have been seeking to discredit Anonymous from the outset.
In reality, as any genuine Anonymous hacktivist will tell you, no such “Emergency Council” exists nor has ever existed within Anonymous. Anonymous is an autonomous collective answerable to no one in which everyone is a free agent. Taking this into consideration then, it is by no means impossible that Lauri Love may well have been the victim of a set up similar to that in which the FBI informant Sabu is said to have initiated the entrapment of Jeremy Hammond in the wake of the Stratfor Hack. If this should turn out to have been the case, in the event of the US Authorities successfully managing to extradite him, and secure a conviction, Love may well have reasonable grounds for appeal against his sentence: not to mention sufficient time to initiate due process of law; given the gravity of the situation and the fact that he might be spending anything up to ninety nine years behind bars. In the meantime his supporters wait with bated breath as each new chapter in the saga unfolds.
Having begun his career as a junior researcher at Thames Television in London, he has written for a wide range of publications including 'The Brighton Reporter', 'Durham Town and Country', 'The Brighton and Hove People' and 'The New Celtic Review'. As an exhibited film maker he has been a regular contributor and award nominee at the Portobello Film Festival in London; and has seen his work shown at the annual London Film Makers' Convention at the prestigious Round House Theatre.
As well as receiving enthusiastic reviews from BBC Radio 4 and others for his book on Sir Walter Scott, his pioneering work as an Underground Film Maker on the fledgeling Goa Trance Scene has set him in a field of his own amongst many of his contemporaries; both in the UK, where he presently resides, and elsewhere. Current projects presently in hand include a book centred on his 'Legendary London' series of documentary films, which have stimulated an enthusiastic response from the likes of Glenda Jackson and others; and a novel set in France and Edinburgh during the eighteenth century Scottish Enlightenment.
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