A vicar’s son accused of hacking into the computer systems of Nasa, the FBI and other US Government departments said he fears he will commit suicide if he’s locked up in an American jail.
Lauri Love spoke out at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London where he is fighting extradition to the United States to face hacking charges.
The 31-year-old is fighting his extradition on human rights grounds after being accused of stealing 23,000 personal details of government employees from the US Federal Reserve, the US Army, the FBI and NASA.
He could spend upto 99 years behind bars if convicted on 12 counts of consecutive sentences for accessing the sensitive data from government systems.
He allegedly worked with online hackers around the world to steal the sensitive information including credit card numbers, telephone numbers, passwords and commercially sensitive data of private companies.
Love, of Stradishall, told the court that he suffers from an acute form of autism called Asperger syndrome as well as crippling eczema, and other mental health issues.
He claimed he would not be able to stop himself trying to commit suicide if he were to lose his extradition battle.
Love said he felt “a deep sense of alienation” as a child, and that he would “exercise what remains of my self-control and take my life” if the extradition request were to be granted.
He spoke of his crippling eczema and the fact that he had gone through 20 courses of antibiotics in three years, rendering him “dependent for the rest of my life”.
The “deck is stacked for most people”, he said in reference to the US justice system, adding because his case had “political” implications “the US has to make an example of me and the deck is stacked even further.”
Love expressed his fear of the US prison system.
He said: “Everyone should have fears of being in one of them.
“Because of my interest in activism, I am especially aware of what happen in US prisons.”
Asked by his defence counsel, Ben Cooper, to describe his childhood, Love said: “I felt a deep sense of despair in the playground while everyone was milling about, having fun, and I was carrying around this great weight or burden.
“In class I felt had to hold back from asking too many questions, because I was too interested in anything.
“The teacher was in a difficult position. Ever from about seven or eight, this was a responsibility for me.
“I did have a small group of friends, but I was more interested in ideas, in reading books.”
Love said that when his family moved from Wiltshire to Suffolk when he was a child, the transition caused so much stress that his hair fell out.
He said: “That was very difficult.
“The quality of education was, in my view, inferior. I felt transplanted and unrooted, like the plant had been ripped up and thrown n the concrete and expected to grow.”
After school, Love said he went to work in a Bernard Matthews turkey factory, work he said he would “not recommend to anyone”.
He said: “I quickly became very good at it.
“But I learnt a lot about labour rights, the relationships between workers and bosses and the fight to be paid enough and have safety. That was my first taste of politics.”
Asked about his potential extradition, Love said: “Sadly, what I expect will happen, the urges, the despair, the helplessness, will manifest itself.
“It will not be a rational decision - I will exercise what remains of my self-control and I will take my life.
“If I was sent to America, those urges to bring my life to an end would be much stronger.”
Love talked about his suicide being a “scorpion tail against the justice system” and that it “could be prevented by not having me kidnapped.”
He said he was studying for an engineering qualification and planned to “leave the world in a better place” than he found it.
He said: “I have enough support now I am staying at home. Learning is easy for me. I am very intellectually capable.”
Love told the court that the stress of “not paying rent and that sort of stuff” had meant that he settled, adding: “I understand the youth a little bit.”
But as he discussed Aaron Schwartz, the teenager who took his own life after being caught stealing thousands of journals from a university database he broke down.
Love described him as a “wunderkind” and said that he “contributed a lot to the internet”.
Schwartz was instrumental in the scrapping of the US government’s PROTECT IP Act - an attempt to combat copyright infringement on the internet - something he described as “badly worded legislation”.
He said: “He tried to download too much. He should have got a slap on the wrist. He was faced with an impossible choice.
“His death sent shockwaves around the internet community.”
Asked about his aspirations, Love said: “I just want to leave this world in a better place than I found it.
“I’m not interested in material things. I don’t want to be rich or famous.
“I want to be in a position where talents I have are applied to make the world a better place.
“Because of the position I am in now, I am not in a position to have conversations with people to bring about a more secure industry.”
Love told the court that he wanted to work in energy systems, and said: “We are going to have a hard time with climate change. There is a massive amount of work to be done.
During cross-examination, Peter Caldwell, accused Love of using his disabilities as a ‘shield’ and courting the media in an attempt to avoid being sent to the US.
It emerged that Love met psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, the brother of Ali G star Sacha Baron-Cohen, to discuss his autism and Aspergers.
Mr Caldwell said: “The reason you were seeking him, is not because you were referred by your GP, but by your lawyers, who sought to rely as evidence on any report he might produce.”
Love replied: “If you are suggesting that we collectively collaborated to intentionally mislead the court, then that is disappointing.”
Mr Caldwell said: “Is it true?
Love replied: “It is an interesting point, but it differs greatly from my experience.
“It is up to you if you want to call into question the evidence of the medical experts.”
Mr Caldwell said: “Why is it that you have not taken any steps to address the issue they have informed you of?”
Love said: “I’m interested to see how you have reached the conclusion that I haven’t taken any steps to address my issues.”
Mr Caldwell said: “I would submit that you prefer to use it as shield in these proceedings, rather than to ask for advice.”
Love said: “What is your medical advice?”
Mr Caldwell said: “You do seek to promote your personal difficulties as a shield to avoid extradition.”
Love said: “I do not agree. Thank you for the suggestion.”
The hearing continues.