Compliance Management, Privacy

Activist Lauri Love dodges encryption key issue for now

Lauri Love, currently facing multiple extradition requests from the USA for alleged hacking offences, has won a small victory in court today.

In a hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Love heard that the court would not compel him to provide the decryption keys to several files on hard drives currently held by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

Love was petitioning the court for the return of six data storage devices and the NCA was arguing that he should have to provide the keys to unlock encrypted data on the devices before it would return them to him.

The NCA seized the hard drives when they searched his parents' house, where he lived, in October 2013 in connection with an investigation under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

Following the search, Love was placed on bail pending an investigation. When the bail ended in July 2014, with no further action being taken by the NCA, the NCA returned most of the items it had seized except for six hard drives.

The NCA sought to compel Love to reveal the encryption keys under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) but didn't pursue this approach when Love replied that he had nothing to tell them.

At issue today was whether the NCA could use court procedures – namely the petition for the return of the hard drives under the Police Property Act 1897 – to get a court order for Love to reveal the passwords.

District Judge Nina Tempia read the judgement in court. She said was not granting the application because “in order to obtain the information sought the correct procedure to be used, as the NCA did two-and-a-half years ago, is under section 49 RIPA, with the inherent HRA safeguards incorporated therein”.

The NCA argued that case management rules – which are used to enable the courts to identify the real issues of a case early on – applied because it was necessary for Love to explain why he wanted the property returned which necessitated the NCA knowing what information was contained in the encrypted files.

Judge Tempia said: “I am not persuaded by this argument. 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.”

Speaking outside court after the hearing, Love told the media that he was not surprised by the ruling but warned that if it had gone the other way, it would have had a chilling effect on freedom of expression and professions in which confidentiality was key as people would rightly fear “arbitrary dispossession” of their data.

This case, he said, restored the status quo.

The NCA declined to comment.

Love faces extradition hearings from three jurisdictions in the US in June. In July, the courts are scheduled to hear his property case at which time he may or may not be asked to reveal any passwords that he may have for the files. 

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