(UR) London — A self-described “information activist” accused of hacking into U.S. government networks will not be forced to supply British authorities with his encryption keys, a London court ruled on Tuesday.
In October of 2013, the National Crime Agency (NCA) — the U.K.’s equivalent of the FBI — raided Lauri Love’s Suffolk home and seized computers and hard drives after authorities in the U.S. accused him of illegally accessing government servers at multiple agencies, including the Department of Defense, NASA, and the Federal Reserve.
The FBI claims Love — who the agency considers a “sophisticated and prolific computer hacker” — infiltrated these systems between October 2012 and February 2013, causing millions of dollars in damages. Love, 31, is currently fighting extradition to the United States where he faces charges of computer hacking and identity theft — and a potential 99 years behind bars if convicted.
In the U.K., however, no charges were ever filed against Love. But that didn’t stop the NCA from trying to compel Love to hand over his passwords with an order filed under Section 49 of the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).
Love chose not to comply with the order, and when the NCA failed to push the issue many assumed the matter was settled. But when Love recently filed a civil suit against the NCA in an attempt to get back his confiscated property, the agency attempted to turn the tables and use the legal action to once again try to force the activist to give up his encryption.
Essentially, the agency argued that the only way for Love to prove that the data on the hard drives actually belonged to him was to give authorities his passwords so they could view his files.
Unfortunately for the NCA, a district judge ruled Tuesday that the agency was exceeding its authority.
“I’m not granting the application because, to obtain the information sought, the correct procedure to use — as the NCA did two-and-a-half years ago — is RIPA and the inherent safeguards incorporated thereafter,” Judge Nina Tempia said in her judgment.
It isn’t clear yet whether Love will get his property back. The next hearing in his civil action against the NCA is in July. But whatever happens, Love insists — even if the U.S. Department of Justice is successful in its attempt to have him extradited — the activist will never give up his passwords.
“There will be no decryption,” he stated outside the courtroom following the ruling.
Love’s attorney, Karen Todner, said the case “raised important issues of principle in relation to the right to respect for private life and right to enjoyment of property.” She added that “a decision in the NCA’s favour would have set a worrying precedent for future investigations of this nature and the protection of these important human rights.”
Indeed, many are calling the judge’s decision a landmark ruling in the fight to preserve personal privacy in the Digital Age.
“It is a victory,” Love told the press outside the courtroom.
But Love also stated that he believes governments and hackers should see past their differences and work as allies in the name of computer security for all.
“Governments should be making the most of the talent that computer hackers have to try to work together to solve the problems of computer lack of security,” he told The Guardian. “What we really need to do is sit round the table together and start to have a conversation.”
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