Journalism

Feds No Longer Trying to Convict Journalist for Hyperlinking

Some charges against Barrett Brown for linking to hacked documents to be dropped

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Barrett Brown
FreeBarrettBrown.org

Journalist-Activist Barrett Brown is one of the lesser-known victims of the federal government's war on journalism. Brian Doherty highlighted his case last June. In short, Brown, a supporter of Anonymous, was targeted for prosecution because he hyperlinked to a website containing material hacked from intelligence firm Stratfor. To be clear, he did not himself hack Stratfor – a member of hacking group AntiSec has already pleaded guilty. He linked to an online dump of the materials in order to try to crowdsource research into the documents.

But he was targeted by the FBI (along with his mother) and faced 17 criminal charges related not just to the hacking but his emotional response to being targeted, which included a YouTube video naming and threatening retaliation against an agent. He faced a maximum penalty of 105 years in federal prison (though he would be unlikely to ever be sentenced that much time).

It seems the feds have finally recognized some level of absurdity in their behavior. They are dropping 11 of the 17 counts against Brown, the counts that essentially accuse Brown of being responsible for hacking Stratfor or stealing from Stratfor simply by posting a hypertext link to the contents. The Guardian notes:

The US government's decision to drop counts one and three to 12 in the indictment relating to the Stratfor hack came just a day after lawyers for Brown filed a legal memorandum calling for those counts to be dropped. Brown's attorneys argued in the memo that the prosecution was a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech, saying that "republishing a hyperlink does not itself move, convey, select, place or otherwise transfer, a file or document from one location to another".

Federal prosecutors have given no further information about why they decided to drop the counts, and a request for comment was not immediately returned. One possible explanation is that government lawyers assessed the steep hill they had to climb overcoming First Amendment protections and decided instead to focus on the other charges still facing Brown.

The activist, who wrote for the Guardian and other publications before his arrest in September 2012, remains accused of count two in this indictment – that he committed access device fraud relating to the credit card details released in the Anonymous hack. He also faces two separate indictments, one for obstruction of justice by allegedly attempting to hide laptops, and the other for allegedly making threats in a YouTube video against an FBI officer and disclosing information about an FBI agent and his family.

So of the charges that remain, all but one are an outcome of the FBI targeting him for something they now acknowledge is not a criminal act. He still faces a maximum possible prison sentence of 70 years (though again, he would be very unlikely to get that much time).

In February, J.D. Tuccille took note that the federal government's treatment of Brown contributed to America sliding down 13 spots in the World Press Freedom Index.

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  1. What about the crime of failure to alt-text with witty comments?

    1. That still calls for time in the stocks and pelting with rancid monocle polish.

    2. One could argue that the absence of witty alt-text is better than the presence of failed witty alt-text.

      1. One could argue that. One’s arguments would be wrong, specious, and woefully esoteric (at best) but one *could* argue that.

        But if one doesn’t at least *attempt* witty alt-text and fail, then one will never improve one’s alt-text.

  2. So of the charges that remain, all but one are an outcome of the FBI targeting him for something they now acknowledge is not a criminal act.

    Freedom!

  3. It is important that people realize that in real life you should never make threats that you aren’t prepared to back up.

    A lot of people seem to think that the Internet is some consensual illusion with no real world consequences. In fact, it’s really a more immediate version of a wall in the marketplace upon which people pasted notices…

    Had this moron kept his mouth shut and his cool, he’d be off scott free right now.

    1. Never give them an excuse or an edge, because those vindictive fuckers will take it. They would have zero problems sending him to prison for life for annoying/defying them, even though he actually did nothing wrong. Remember that. These are not decent people, or people with a sense of proportion.

      1. I’d hesitate to call them people.

  4. he was targeted by the FBI (along with his mother)

    I see Reason needs proofreaders.

    1. There’s no reason to believe his mother did not also target him, is there?

      1. Given that face, there’s reason to believe she did.

  5. ustice by allegedly attempting to hide laptops, and the other for allegedly making threats in a YouTube video against an FBI officer and disclosing information about an FBI agent and his family.

    Unfortunately, the former is probably true. Well, let me dither on that: I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true. Many otherwise law-abiding people will panic if they find themselves the target of a federal probe, and will destroy (in a panic) evidence they believe might incriminate them. Just like that dude who destroyed his hard drive when a federal officer left his card with his wife.

    This sort of falls into the don’t-talk-to-the-cops realm in that the instant you find you’re a target of a probe, lawyer up.

    As for the threats– he just gave them a damned excuse.

  6. For something to be a threat, there should be an affirmative step toward actually doing what’s threatened. Just saying you’re going to do something doesn’t make it a credible threat. These sensitive pigs…

  7. If you think the state gives two shits about the “world press freedom index”, you’re ridiculously naive. Now, if there were a “world ‘I’m bigger than you, and can kick your little sissy ass down the street” index, the US Government would CERTAINLY be #1 by a long shot. But they still wouldn’t give a shit whether they were on it or not.

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