Barrett Brown Sentenced To 63 Months In Jail For Daring To Do Journalism On Hacked Info

from the bad-and-dangerous-precedent dept

We’ve written a few times about the ridiculous case against Barrett Brown, a journalist who took a deep interest in Anonymous and various hacking efforts. As we noted, a key part of the initial charges included the fact that Brown had organized an effort to comb through the documents that had been obtained from Stratfor via a hack. The key bit was that Brown had reposted a URL pointing to the documents to share via his “Project PM” — a setup to crowdsource the analysis of the leaked documents. Some of those documents included credit card info, so he was charged with “trafficking” in that information. Brown didn’t help his own cause early on with some immensely foolish actions, like threatening federal agents in a video posted to YouTube, but there were serious concerns about how the government had twisted what Brown had actually done in a way that could be used against all kinds of journalists.

While the feds eventually dismissed the key “linking” claim (equating linking to trafficking), they still got Brown to agree to a plea deal on other charges. After many months, he was finally sentenced today to 63 months in prison, more than double the 30 months that his lawyers asked for (30 months being the time he’s already served in prison). He also has to pay $890,000 in restitution. For linking to some files he didn’t have anything to do with leaking.

Before the sentencing, Brown made a statement to the judge that is well worth reading. He admits that the threatening videos were “idiotic” and apologizes for it, but delves more deeply into what’s really at stake in his case. Here’s just a tiny bit:

Every journalist in the United States is put at risk by the novel, and sometimes even radical, claims that the government has introduced in the course of the sentencing process. The government asserts that I am not a journalist and thus unable to claim the First Amendment protections guaranteed to those engaged in information-gathering activities. Your Honor, I?ve been employed as a journalist for much of my adult life, I?ve written for dozens of magazines and newspapers, and I?m the author of two published and critically-acclaimed books of expository non-fiction. Your Honor has received letters from editors who have published my journalistic work, as well as from award-winning journalists such as Glenn Greenwald, who note that they have used that work in their own articles. If I am not a journalist, then there are many, many people out there who are also not journalists, without being aware of it, and who are thus as much at risk as I am.

Your Honor, it would be one thing if the government were putting forth some sort of standard by which journalists could be defined. They have not put forth such a standard. Their assertion rests on the fact that despite having referred to myself as a journalist hundreds of times, I at one point rejected that term, much in the same way that someone running for office might reject the term ?politician?. Now, if the government is introducing a new standard whereby anyone who once denies being a particular thing is no longer that thing in any legal sense, then that would be at least a firm and knowable criteria. But that?s not what the government is doing in this case. Consider, for instance, that I have denied being a spokesperson for Anonymous hundreds of times, both in public and private, ever since the press began calling me that in the beginning of 2011. So on a couple of occasions when I contacted executives of contracting firms like Booz Allen Hamilton in the wake of revelations that they?d been spying on my associates and me for reasons that we were naturally rather anxious to determine, I did indeed pretend to be such an actual official spokesman for Anonymous, because I wanted to encourage these people to talk to me. Which they did.

Of course, I have explained this many, many times, and the government itself knows this, even if they?ve since claimed otherwise. In the September 13th criminal complaint filed against me, the FBI itself acknowledges that I do not claim any official role within Anonymous. Likewise, in last month?s hearing, the prosecutor accidentally slipped and referred to me as a journalist, even after having previously found it necessary to deny me that title. But, there you have it. Deny being a spokesperson for Anonymous hundreds of times, and you?re still a spokesperson for Anonymous. Deny being a journalist once or twice, and you?re not a journalist. What conclusion can one draw from this sort of reasoning other than that you are whatever the FBI finds it convenient for you to be at any given moment. This is not the ?rule of law?, Your Honor, it is the ?rule of law enforcement?, and it is very dangerous.

The judge didn’t seem to care, however. Judge Sam Lindsay claimed that Brown was “more involved than he wants the court to believe” despite no such evidence being presented. Furthermore, it appears that even though the charges related to the link sharing were dropped and the plea was over other charges, sharing that link is part of why his sentence was so high.

This is a very dangerous ruling for those who believe in freedom of the press. Rulings like this put anyone reporting on any hacked or leaked info at risk. While some don’t like it, reporters need to be free to report on things, from the Stratfor documents to the Sony Hack documents to the Snowden revelations. A sentence like this puts a massive chill over journalism and the First Amendment in general.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Barrett Brown Sentenced To 63 Months In Jail For Daring To Do Journalism On Hacked Info”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
65 Comments
art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

i still am not grokking the citizen/journalist split: in a real sense, journalists are a SUBSET of all us regular citizens, who should not get SUPERIOR rights, but THE SAME rights…

they are merely our proxies, NOT SUPERIOR CITIZENS with superior rights: EVERY citizen should have such rights and privileges, NOT just journalists…

WE ALL HAVE THOSE RIGHTS and protections, NOT just a korporate-paid lackey of Empire who has a laminated ID from BigMedia Korp…

i don’t get it…

(well, okay, i ‘get it’ in relation to Empire wanting to make them a separate CONTROLLED subclass; but i don’t get why journos and citizens go along with that false notion…)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

but i don’t get why journos and citizens go along with that false notion

It has to do with the meaning of press, and how it has changed over time. In the constitution it meant the printing press, that is the means of producing printed material. In modern times it means new organizations, and that also suits professional journalists, who are finding that bloggers offer severe competition.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

This is just legalistic opportunism that the enemies of free speech have pursued. They took the phrase “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” to mean that the speech of citizens is separate from the speech of the press. If they define journalists by their own criteria (basically anyone who “plays ball” and lets the government censor and edit the message prior to reporting), they can do an end run around the 1st Amendment. With more technological innovations, the difference between a journalist and a citizen (much like the difference between a content producer and a consumer) is meaningless. But that reduces their power and they can’t have that.

Quixote (profile) says:

The feds definitely don’t joke around about posting improper links or making “unfortunate” satirical statements in Youtube videos. Don’t forget Aaron Swartz, and be careful how you use your “free speech.” This sentence, incidentally, builds on the very clear precedent set in New York, where jail (albeit a shorter term) was the sentence for sending out inappropriately deadpan email parodies of a well-connected academic department chairman. When you decide not to stand up for everyone’s rights, don’t be surprised when yours get trampled on with big black boots. See the documentation of America’s leading criminal satire case at:

http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Considering that the heads of government agencies are typically short-term political appointees who are not only completely inexperienced in that field of work, but have poor management skills as well. Witness Bush appointee Mike Brown as head of FEMA when a hurricane wiped out New Orleans.

It could be argued that most government agencies would operate much more effectively when the director dies and the position is left vacant.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If there was more than what the court believed, and he was sentenced for something he was cleared of…

THEN WHAT THE FUCKITY FUCK IS THE POINT OF THE ENTIRE FUCKING COURT SYSTEM!?

Why, punishment of course. Please try to keep up.

Oh, and all those purported rights you believe you possess, don’t get uppity about them either. You have been warned. Have a nice day.

kog999 says:

Why does his status as a journalist or not a journalist matter when its comes to free speech? shouldn’t free speech be a right held by everyone? It seems step 1 and 2 has already been complete

Step 1: Limit Free speech to Journalist
Step 2: Limit Journalist to only big business
Step 3: Ensure no one qualifies as a Journalist
Step 4: Profit.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

thank you, kog…
said the same along those lines above, before i saw your post…

i sincerely don’t get it: WE ARE ALL our own ‘journalists’ as citizens (IF we so desire); it is just that -practically speaking- we MUST have proxies doing OUR research, reporting, etc; because NO ONE INDIVIDUAL can have the time/resources to report on EVERYTHING without having proxies to do so for us…

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Why does his status as a journalist or not a journalist matter when its comes to free speech? shouldn’t free speech be a right held by everyone?

You’d think so, but the US legal system has been bent over a barrel so many times by so many sleazy actors, it hasn’t a clue what it is that it’s supposed to be doing these days.

TruthHurts (profile) says:

Judge should have to recuse themselves...

Why?

Because of that statement about believing him to be more involved that he would want us to believe.

That’s showing the judge to be prejudicial to the defendant when making assumptions that are contrary to the “real” evidence provided and not the puss-covered spewings of the plaintiff trying to throw anything it can hoping something sticks.

To my mind that makes the Judge ineligible to make a fair and unbiased ruling on this case.

His appeal is most certain due this predisposition on the corrupt judge’s part.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sentenced to prison for over half a decade, because he used a computer to post a link to leaked documents. The politicians sure do hate computer literate people. In fact, a more accurate statement might read, they fear such people who display intelligence greater than own, and can use these new fangled computers to reach billions of people instantly with their message.

I believe that’s what’s really at the heart of these abusive computer crime laws. Politicians and CEO’s aren’t smart enough to know what to do about the loss of control computers are causing them. So they’re over compensating for their lack of intelligence with draconian computer crime laws in an attempt to intimidate people into submission.

I don’t think it will work. It’ll just cause the computer literate people to become even more skilled and educated in the craft. I predict these draconian computer laws will end up having the opposite of their intended effect.

If I had to equate such draconian computer laws to something. I’d equate them to the MAFIAA’s war on sharing. MAFIAA has been fighting a desperate battle to maintain control over the free flow of information. How’s that been working out for them? I predict the business leaders and politicians war against computer leakers with end in similar fashion as the MAFIAA’s war.

Zonker says:

Just had to reemphasize the most insightful statement Brown made in his defense because it is so important that it doesn’t go overlooked:

But, there you have it. Deny being a spokesperson for Anonymous hundreds of times, and you’re still a spokesperson for Anonymous. Deny being a journalist once or twice, and you’re not a journalist. What conclusion can one draw from this sort of reasoning other than that you are whatever the FBI finds it convenient for you to be at any given moment. This is not the “rule of law”, Your Honor, it is the “rule of law enforcement”, and it is very dangerous.

Padpaw (profile) says:

your land of the free home of the brave died out decades ago. Apathy the silent killer, since most people have shown they are no longer willing to fight to defend their rights, they prefer to trust in those in power not to abuse their power.

Now laws are ignored if those in charge don’t like someone or want to make an example of them. They do what they want when and how they want to, dam any rights or laws that get in their way.

Anonymous Coward says:

what is it with USA ‘justice’ that makes it a complete mockery, executed by judges who are equally as idiotic? almost daily an article appears where the DoJ has changed a law to suit the charges it wants to bring against someone, usually actually innocent of any crime other than what has been dreamed up against them. this is followed by a judge who has scant interest in being a judge and more interested in being a DoJ lackey, throwing ridiculously harsh sentences to someone who has basically done nothing wrong, let alone committed a crime! this smacks so much of how dictatorships run with maximum hurt given for minimum harm done. how can the US still call itself ‘Land of the free, Home of the brave’ when these stunts are pulled?

JP Jones (profile) says:

One thing that stuck out to me was this part:

Consider, for instance, that I have denied being a spokesperson for Anonymous hundreds of times, both in public and private, ever since the press began calling me that in the beginning of 2011.

I’m no expert, but I’m fairly certain that “decentralized leadership around a general philosophy” is one of the core aspects of the Anonymous group. In other words, there aren’t really “spokesmen” or really leadership. I’m extremely skeptical when anyone says “I’m speaking on behalf of Anonymous”.

Great to see someone going to jail for years because of people arguing over stuff they don’t understand.

JP Jones (profile) says:

One more thing…policies and laws like this are counter-productive. It’s sort of like calling the police to arrest someone who picks up your wallet off the ground and returns it to you, because hey, they weren’t authorized to touch your wallet. I’d rather get my wallet returned than having someone keep it and use it secretly.

By punishing people for exposing security holes we’re arresting the good people while the bad ones are just keeping their mouth shut and using it for their own gains. It doesn’t make sense.

So don’t complain when your crap gets stolen when you start arresting all the people who would have told you it was unsecured.

Padpaw (profile) says:

Re: Re:

it’s a blind, they needed any excuse to lock him up. This isn’t about him, it’s about sending a threat to anyone else that refuses to just follow orders and ignore what the government tells them to ignore. The American government treats dissent as terrorism generally.

“Do what we say, report on what we tell you to or this will happen to you”

A police state and a tyranny all in one

Anonymous Coward says:

I don't see the problem

Sorry to be the naysayer, but Barrett Brown didn’t go to jail for daring to do journalism. So at the very least the title is misleading. I applaud his desire to put out this information, but it is only indirectly that he went to jail for it.

While I don’t believe there should have been an investigation in the first place, he does not have the right to obstruct it if there is one. A reasonable person would know better than to mess with a federal investigation. 5 years in prison is a long time, but would you expect any less for a federal obstruction charge?

edinjapan (profile) says:

Re: I don't see the problem

As I see it there is a problem. Actually there are many problems and they all lead back to government sponsored stupidity, incompetence and malfeasance.

Thankfully the United States is not a country I live in or even have to deal with. Your government has other plans and is insisting that Japan must koolaid. Unfortunately, everyone who drinks the American koolaid dies in some horrible way. Did you drink the koolaid?

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: I don't see the problem

“…you expect any less for a federal obstruction charge?”

I would agree to this, only if the people holding high office were also held to these same rules against obstruction. They are not.

Obstructing justice is now a major part of the job description of most elected officials, and federal employees, who are, as a rule, not held responsible for their actions, because its considered to be their duty, by the DOJ, the Whitehouse and the courts.

Its like the USG is at war with the US public and so any and all breaking of the law by members of the USG is acceptable and expected when dealing with the adversary and any twisting of the law in order to deal as much damage to members of the public as possible, is also seen as simply a necessary and patriotic part of the war effort by the member-soldiers of the government.

Anonymous Coward says:

Political trials are alive and well in the west it seems. When did the politicians decide the Soviet show trials against political dissidents were something that would fit right in a democrastic society? Or is the question wrong? Could it be that measures of this sort are in fact a indicator of how much the rule of law and democracy have been rolled back in the post cold war period?

Joe K says:

Re: Re:

Political trials are alive and well in the west it
seems. When did the politicians decide the Soviet show trials against
political dissidents were something that would fit right in a
democrastic society? Or is the question wrong? Could it be that
measures of this sort are in fact a indicator of how much the rule of
law and democracy have been rolled back in the post cold war
period?

Post cold war? You must be from the distant future. Either
that, or you’ve managed to overlook the fountain of lies papering over
US sponsorship of the Ukraine’s Fascist Spring.

Anonymous Coward says:

Misinterpretation of the word PRESS

The first amendment does not seek to define what a “journalist” is. Freedom of the press was defined as “printing press” at the time of writing. Meaning everyone, even if you are a janitor, has the freedom to print anything they want. In modern times press means publication. We are free to publish whatever we want, this comment is under the first amendment my free publication of my speech and is protected under the “freedom of press” clause.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Misinterpretation of the word PRESS

I would argue that it’s a deliberate misinterpretation.

A “journalist” is nothing more or less than someone who is engaging in the act of journalism. Whether or not they are connected with a news or media outlet couldn’t be less relevant.

Remember having to write factual essays in high school? When you were doing that, you too were a journalist. Nearly everyone has been a journalist at one time or another, even if the journalism consisted of nothing more than writing something in an annual family newsletter.

Dan G Difino says:

Spanking the small person

If they are so hell bent on justice against the little guy for leak sharing and stifling 1st amendment protection for non journalist types and seem to be not so concerned with the leaks themselves, except for being accessable to more people unneccessarily and illegally, why is edward snowden still at large laughing at America? Thumbing his nose at these federal cops?

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: The Founding Fathers of the Union Should Smile At Their Handywork

“… needs to enjoy the freedoms they’ve been allowed to keep.”

Actually, its not so much that We The People (and the rest of the world pretty much) have been allowed to keep some of their freedoms.

Its more along the lines of “enjoying the freedoms they still have left”, because the crooks in power plan to eventually take away all of them.

Its like the frog in the pot of water. Bring it slowly to a boil and the frog just sits there and dies before it realizes the water has become deadly.

With humans, you can’t just take away their freedoms, because then they rebel and kill their oppressors.

You need to create a “fear”, or “threat” that convinces them to offer up their freedoms to the authorities in return for a promise of safety and security, but this method can only remove freedoms one or two at a time.

Some freedoms are simply more difficult to take away in this fashion, so there are still a few left that have not been offered up.

But, by taking them away only one or two at a time, people react exactly like the frog in water – unaware of the pending threat.

You can bet your last dollar however, that the authorities are working diligently day and night – (or at least their hired think-tanks are) – to come up with new ways and means to wrest those last few freedoms from We The People (and the rest of the world pretty much), as soon as possible.

You see, the only security that those in power actually seek, is security from consequences – they seek the ability to legally exploit the human race without fear of reprisal.

Their tool to accomplish this, is the tool that has always been used for exactly this purpose throughout human history.

The Law.

GEMont (profile) says:

How often must the Thief steal before folks stop calling him a Guard.

“A sentence like this puts a massive chill over journalism and the First Amendment in general.”

In other words, the whole gambit was a complete success.

And another judge earns his minion’s yacht silver.

Chalk up another easy win for the forces of fascism.

Note one more event where the American Public’s general reaction to being screwed over by its own rewritten laws, was, “Huh! What? errrr…..”

Will America ever realize the hard lesson that the enemy, dressed as a friend, is still an enemy and that you will know him only by his actions and not by his words?

Tune in next week for more deception and subterfuge by the leaders of America. And the week after. And the week after that, and the following week, and…

—-

Anonymous Coward says:

How to stop this trend

The easiest way to stop this trend would be to snatch Bill O’Reilly and have half a dozen white males dressed up as members of NYPD execute him on youtube. The backlash would guarantee that every police officer, judge, jury and prosecutor would be walking on eggshells when it comes to persecuting a journalist for years to come.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: How to stop this trend

@nasch

Faux News calls him a journalist. He’s expendable. His public assassination by NYPD uniform wearing thugs would upset the likes of Glenn Beck, Al Franken, Rush Limbaugh et al and bring all the rightwing crazies from the KKK to the John Birch Society out of the woodwork.

And as we all know massive amounts of roadkill and overkill would be the order of the day.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...