Criminal Justice

Barrett Brown Taken Back Into Custody for Talking to the Press

Initially arrested for crimes rooted in his part in linking to hacked documents online, Brown now seems to be being punished just for allowing himself to be a subject of journalism.


Barrett Brown, famous "hacktivist" who spent four years prison in an arrest that started with his role in releasing linking to some hacked documents online (though that investigation led to a video in which he was taken to be threatening FBI agents, another crime he was charged with) was taken back into custody today, according to D Magazine, for whom Brown had been working as a reporter. (The complicated details of his original charges and conviction are explained in this 2015 Wired article.)

Free Barrett Brown Twitter

Relying on reports from Brown's mother, Karen Lancaster, with whom Brown had been living, Brown was tossed back in the pokey for conducting interviews with the press without explicit permission from the Bureau of Prison bureaucracy—even though Ms. Lancaster insists that the Bureau, even when asked, could not provide written proof that he was legally required to do so:

Barrett was re-arrested during routine check-in this morning and is being transferred to a BOP facility that is unknown. He has not missed a check-in over the last five months of his early release. He has not failed any of the random drug tests administered. He has been on home confinement status since February and has been home each and every time they called the landline at 1:00 to 2:00 a.m. for "bed check."

He believes this is only because of his refusal to get "permission" from crews to film and interview him. He has had many interviews since his early release, on November 29, both by phone and in person. Last week VICE had a group in to film him for two days [ed: they filmed a bunch up here at D Magazine headquarters], and he was scheduled to be interviewed tomorrow by a group working on a documentary for PBS.

Ms. Luz Lujan, his BOP contact, refused to provide him with copies of program statement rules saying this is a requirement during halfway house and/or home confinement status. The forms that they finally came up with yesterday, after he had been requesting documentation for the past two weeks, are forms offered to media when requesting a visit with an inmate in a federal prison setting.

There was never any mention of these rules during the past four months of his federally approved employment at D Magazine when he was working with media and involved with a range of interviews.

The Bureau of Prisons acknowledged in an email today that Brown "is no longer in home confinement and he is presently located at Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Seagoville in Texas (our inmate locator webpage should updated tomorrow), but we can not disclose the reasons for a specific inmate's transfer of locations."

The Bureau of Prisons, contra Ms. Lancaster's implication, seems to believe that any regulations that would have bound a Barrett Brown literally behind bars similarly binds him on his current "early release" (distinct legally from the probation that is scheduled to begin next month, at the end of his original sentence).

Kevin Gallagher, who runs the Free Barrett Brown website, said in a phone interview today that the specific terms of Brown's supervised released did not mention restrictions on talking to the media. Gallagher notes both that Brown has been doing media since his release began (including with Reason TV, see below) and that Brown has a record of "being critical of the Bureau of Prisons in many different ways."

Thus, an element of pure punishment for speech seems involved in their locking him up again, even if technically it is just about not following their paperwork demands.

Brown explained some of the complications of his early release prior to the beginning of his actual probation in May (when he moves into the jurisdiction of the Justice Department rather than the Bureau of Prisons) in a D Magazine column in January.

Audio of phone calls in which Brown is trying to discover the actual written proof that this was indeed a legal requirement can be found here on Soundcloud. Brown points out on those tapes that he does not want to be considered to be refusing an official order when they refuse to show him that there is even such an official order.

Details from Reason in 2013 on Brown's original arrest and prosecution.

The "Free Barrett Brown" Twitter feed has its eye on this situation as it evolves.

A Reason TV interview with Brown from March, after he was released from jail last November, possibly evidence of a crime:

**The subheadline has been edited to properly reflect Brown's role in the hacked documents.