Judge Rejects Attempt To Force Lauri Love To Decrypt His Computers, Despite Never Charging Him With A Crime

from the finally,-a-good-ruling dept

Back in March, we wrote about the troubling situation in the UK, in which the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) was trying to force hacker/activist Lauri Love to decrypt his computers, despite never actually charging him with a crime. Back in 2014, US authorities sought to extradite Love for supposedly hacking into government computers. As part of that process, the government took all of his electronics and demanded he turn over his encryption keys. He refused. Under the RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) law in the UK, prosecutors could then charge him for failing to disclose his passwords... but, importantly, they did not do so.

Last year, the NCA actually returned most of Love's stuff, but held onto six items: three computers, two hard drives and an SD card. Love sought to get them back, using a civil legal action against the NCA. The NCA then, somewhat ridiculously, sought to use that civil action to again force Love to decrypt the devices it held, in particular asking that he decrypt some TrueCrypt files on the SD card and hard drives. Thankfully, the court has flatly rejected the NCA's demand, noting that it appeared to be a clear attempt to do an endrun around RIPA, which has a variety of protections.
After reading the papers and hearing from the parties, I am not granting the application because in order to obtain the information sought the correct procedure to be used, as the NCA did 2 ½ years ago, is under section 49 RIPA, with the inherent HRA safeguards incorporated therein. Case management rules are necessary to fulfil their objectives which include the early identification of the real issues in the case and, as per the new CPR relating to applications under the PPA, the applicant to explain his interest in the property. The NCA submits this “lends some support to its submission that Mr Love should in this case be required to provide the encryption key or password as only thus will the court be able to adjudicate fairly upon the complete contents of the devices” (paragraph 3 of supplementary skeleton argument dated 5th April 2016). 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.
The court does note that the issue is not completely closed. But it appears that while Love will not have to disclose his key, that may be used against him in trying to regain control over his stuff:
Finally, I would also add that this court has already directed Mr Love to give particulars of the contents of his files as part of the evidence as to ownership in a witness statement. The NCA accepts the case can be heard in July and they will invite the court to draw interferences
Still, on the whole, not forcing him to disclose under these conditions is nice to see.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2016 @ 11:51am

    Lauri Love didn't actually win in court. Basically, the court isn't forcing Love to turn over his encryption keys or passwords but also he doesn't get his equipment back until he provides a list of what's actually on the hard drives and storage devices.

    Technically, it's evidence and until it goes to court, he won't get his equipment back. Love may eventually be forced to provide the encryption keys.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 10 May 2016 @ 1:21pm

      Ah judicial extortion...

      "Now we may not be charging you with a crime, or ordering you to provide the decryption keys, but if you want your stuff back you're going to have to tell us everything that's on them. Why yes, that will probably require you to decrypt them, or provide us evidence we can then use to force you to decrypt them for us, but that's just a total coincidence."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2016 @ 12:55pm

    Encrypt everything, stay secure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2016 @ 1:31pm

    I wonder what they will charge him with next. Since when you win a case against the government they just view it as you need to punished further, not you were innocent of what they charged you with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2016 @ 1:34pm

    > Finally, I would also add that this court has already directed Mr Love to give particulars of the contents of his files as part of the evidence as to ownership in a witness statement.


    ... because the devices the NCA took from Mr Love, the devices that have been meticulously tracked and identified while going through the court system, might alternately belong to ... who, exactly?

    That's already a fraud. There is no doubt where the devices came from. There's no claims that they were stolen (unless you count the taking by the NCA...).

    And as for the contents, there can be no claim about the ownership of the contents separate from the device itself, without competing evidence. And no such evidence has been brought forth, because the contents of the devices is unknown!

    Even decrypted, much of the contents will be under copyright (proprietary software, movies, MP3s, etc) and thus not belong to Mr Love (except via lease and license) in the normal course of operating a computer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bergman (profile), 10 May 2016 @ 1:38pm

    Wait, what?

    The NCA seized the computer hardware from Mr Love, and presumably have records definitively proving they took them from him.

    Why does he need to prove he owns his own property that police files show are indeed his property in order to secure the return of his property?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 10 May 2016 @ 1:58pm

      "We shall make him an offer he can't refuse."

      Because screw that guy, that's why. They failed to force him to decrypt the devices, so now they hold them hostage and offer him the 'deal' of 'If you want them back you have to tell us what's on them'.

      At this point they seem to have devolved into petty vindictiveness, doing anything they can think of to force him to cave, or at least suffer for refusing to do so.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2016 @ 3:48pm

      Re: Wait, what?

      forced to go through hoops because he refused to work with his accusers. Since naturally if you are innocent you will let the prosecution railroad you. Only the guilty try and defend themselves against the state.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2016 @ 2:41am

      Re: Wait, what?

      Even if he did get them back you can guarantee they'll be packed full of wonderful new 'features' courtesy of the NSA...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2016 @ 2:28pm

    > Finally, I would also add that this court has already directed Mr Love to give particulars of the contents of his files as part of the evidence as to ownership in a witness statement.

    So the physical devices are his, they know it's his, but until he decrypts them to 'prove' they are his, he can't them back?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 10 May 2016 @ 6:44pm

    Off-site backups

    This is why you should have off-site backups.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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