Campaigners have welcomed a UK court ruling against Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA), which was demanding hacker Lauri Love disclose the passwords to his encrypted computers.
District Court Judge Nina Tempia, sitting at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, ruled against the NCA on Tuesday morning, saying the security agency tried to use the powers of the court to get round the law.
“The case management powers of the court are not to be used to circumvent specific legislation that has been passed in order to deal with the disclosure sought,” Tempia wrote.
She added that she was not persuaded by the NCA’s argument that Love, 31, should be made to provide the encryption keys to his computers.
Love is accused of taking part in a string of protest hacking attacks in the US.
The acting director of activist group the Courage Foundation, Sarah Harrison, congratulated Love for having “successfully staved off the NCA’s attempt to circumvent standing protections in order to acquire his encryption keys by the back door.”
She also recognized the crucial role of the press in covering the trial.
“Public scrutiny has played an important role here and we should remember that’s something the NCA tried to prevent when they argued for a reporting restriction,” Harrison said.
“By making a stand for his own privacy, Lauri Love has prevented a further erosion of rights for everyone in the UK, at a time when the ability to store and convey information securely is at risk all over the world.”
Legal journalist David Allen Green explained that the NCA failed in its bid to force Love to reveal his passwords and encryption because it tried “to sidestep the RIPA [Regulation of Investigatory Powers] scheme and effectively circumvent the section 55 safeguards and the protections of the Code of Practice.”
The NCA did this by filing a civil claim against Love, asserting the confiscated equipment is their property using a Victorian law from the Police (Property) Act of 1897.
Love is not out of the woods yet, however. The activist, who is wanted by three separate US court districts, will return to Westminster Magistrates’ Court next month for an extradition hearing.
If found guilty in the case of USA vs. Love, he could face a sentence of up to 99 years in jail.
The US Department of Justice (DoJ) is pursuing him with three extradition orders, claiming he and several collaborators violated millions of US networks between 2012 and 2013, landing US taxpayers with a multimillion-dollar damages bill.
The series of political protests, dubbed “#OpLastResort,” was orchestrated by online activist network Anonymous to decry the US criminal justice system’s draconian persecution of the late Aaron Swartz.
Facing $1 million in fines and up to 35 years in prison, the talented programmer and entrepreneur took his own life in 2013. He was just 26 years old.