British security services have been accused of dealing a blow to privacy by attempting to force an alleged cyber hacker through legal means to hand over the password to his encrypted computer files.
Lauri Love, 31, is fighting attempts to extradite him to America to face criminal charges for breaking into Federal Reserve computers.
He is accused of stealing ‘massive quantities’ of sensitive data, resulting in millions of dollars of losses and faces up to 12 years in prison in the US if he is found guilty.
Officers from the National Crime Agency (NCA) launched an investigation and raided his family home in Stradishall, Suffolk, in October 2013 where they seized encrypted computers and hard drives.
At the time, US prosecutors even said Love and his collaborators had placed hidden ‘shells’ and ‘back doors’ within the hacked networks, allowing them to return later to steal data.
No charges were brought in Britain against Love, but the NCA wants him to hand over his passwords so officers can check the data before his confiscated electronics are returned.
Love's team say the application, if granted, would be a significant blow to privacy and amounts to a ‘power grab’ by the security services. Love argues that the six bits of encrypted hardware being held contain his entire digital life.
Speaking outside the court, he said: "They are holding my property to ransom.”
"It is not just the devices that cost money and I don't have a lot of money, but it is everything I have ever made - writings, software, photos, correspondence, memories of an inestimable personal sentimental value."
The NCA argues that screenshots taken of the computers before the encryption kicked in shows that Love had information from Nasa, the US military and the Department of Energy.
The UK's controversial Investigatory Powers Bill, or ‘snooper's charter’, passed its second reading last month and originally obliged technology firms to weaken security by undermining encryption systems before this clause was revised.
Senior Conservatives have urged Home Secretary Theresa May to improve the proposed spying powers and lessen some of the more extreme surveillance aspects of the bill.