NCA asks Anonymous-linked to hand over encryption keys of seized laptops to United States authorities
The National Crime Agency (NCA) has demanded that a British computer scientist suspected of hacking into US federal computer networks and causing “millions of dollars in damage,” decrypts a number of devices seized by the agency back in 2013.
Lauri Love, the Anonymous linked hacker in question, was arrested in 2013 for the alleged intrusions but released afterwards; however, he was rearrested in 2015. He is currently fighting extradition to the US for hacking charges after charges revealed last year accused him of breaching the networks of the US Army, the Federal Reserve, NASA and other high-profile targets.
Love has until now refused to comply with a Section 49 RIPA notice to decrypt the devices, a refusal that carries potential jail time. However, British authorities in the on-going court proceedings have not charged Love with any crime, leading him to counter-sue in civil court for the return of his devices. The devices in question include a Samsung laptop, a Fujitsu Siemens laptop, a Compaq computer tower, an SD card, and a Western Digital hard drive. The NCA in particular wants Love to decrypt TrueCrypt files on the SD card and external drive.
The government’s demands threaten to erode the right against self-incrimination, Dr. Richard Tynan of Privacy International told Ars. “This is the first time we have heard of a UK agency using two different legal mechanisms to compel the decryption of data,” he said. “It is particularly worrisome given that no prosecution is underway against the individual [Love] and is in the context of a serious extradition case to the US. The right not to provide evidence against oneself is cherished in the US and around the world but apparently not so in the UK.”
In Love’s civil case, his argument is that if the police are not going to charge him with a crime, they should return his property. “The problem is that the NCA are effectively arguing that any information that cannot be read and comprehended by the police has a presumption of guilt,” Love told Ars in an e-mailed statement. “This has clear and troubling implications for groups that handle sensitive communications or other data—journalists, advocates, activists and whistleblowers, and members of the legal profession.
“An executive body of the state is saying that any information to which they are not privy… cannot be owned and kept securely but instead confiscated and access denied,” Love added. “This is a fundamental reversal of rights and the potential for abuse is alarming.
However, the NCA said that it would not return the devices as it was unable to decrypt their contents and argues that Love should decrypt his devices in order to demonstrate that the data they contain belongs to him.
Now, court proceedings show that the agency has demanded Love hand over the passwords and encryption keys to the seized goods, according to Ars. The NCA also wants Love to provide a witness statement indicating why he is entitled to the data held on the devices – which investigators believe contains “pirated versions of copyrighted films,” “data from the ‘Police Oracle‘ website,” and “data obtained from the United States Department of Energy and the United States Senate.”
Nevertheless, Tor Ekeland, Love’s attorney in the US, believes that the NCA’s demands have nothing to do with the ongoing civil law suit. “I think they want to gain access to the information on Lauri’s computers in order to turn it over to the US authorities, with whom it seems to me they are plainly cooperating,” he told Ars. “Lauri is currently under indictment in the US, and it appears the UK government is sharing information with the US, so the question on our end is whether the UK government is violating Lauri’s US constitutional rights as a criminal defendant by engaging in activity that US prosecutors may not be able to do in the US.
“Are the UK prosecutors acting as agents for the US in this instance?” Ekeland asked. “The possibility that the US government may use foreign sovereigns to do an end run around US constitutional criminal defendant protections is disturbing to me.”
The FBI and Department of Justice (DoJ) claim that as part of the hacking collective Anonymous, Love has been involved in hacking into various governmental agencies, resulting in millions of dollars’ worth of damage. The court is set to hear arguments on the decryption demand on April 12 at Westminster Magistrate’s Court while the next extradition hearing set for June 28 and 29. The FBI has stated that if convicted by a US court, he could face up to 12 years in prison.