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.