Internet Activist Barrett Brown Sentenced to 63 Months’ Prison for Re-Posting Public Link
A freelance journalist once known as the “unofficial spokesman” of the hacktivist collective Anonymous has been sentenced to 63 months in prison for linking to stolen corporate documents.
The Desk reports Barrett Brown, 33, appeared in a Dallas federal district court, where he pleaded guilty to transmitting threats, accessory to hacking and interfering with the execution of a search warrant.
In addition to the 28 months he has already served behind bars, Judge Samuel A. Lindsay ordered Brown imprisoned for an additional 35 months. He was also fined $890,000 plus court costs.
Wired reports Brown was originally charged with 12 counts of aggravated identity theft and trafficking in stolen data for posting a link in a chat room pointing to a document stolen by members of Anonymous. That data belonged to Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (Stratfor), and contained company emails and clients’ credit card information.
Brown’s prosecution raised eyebrows and ire because he had not actually stolen the data himself. He only copied the hyperlink from one public chat room and re-posted it in another. For that, Brown faced a possible combined sentence of more than 100 years in prison.
The stage for a major First Amendment case was set, but the government dropped several of the most serious charges against him in a plea deal.
Addressing the court prior to his sentencing, Brown expressed remorse for posting “idiotic” videos in which he threatened an FBI agent who was investigating him. He blamed his behavior on a “manic state” caused by withdrawal from Paxil and Suboxone, pharmaceutical medications taken to help control his heroin addiction.
He also admitted to “stupidly” concealing evidence from FBI agents, and acknowledged collaborating with Anonymous — he has been called the group’s “unofficial spokesman” — in the Stratfor hack.
But Brown was also defiant, calling out the government’s hypocrisy in selectively prosecuting crimes.
“If I criticize the government for breaking the law but then break the law myself in an effort to reveal their wrongdoing, I should expect to be punished just as I’ve called for the criminals at government-linked firms, like HBGary and Palantir, to be punished,” he argued.
“When we start fighting crime by any means necessary we become guilty of the same hypocrisy as law enforcement agencies throughout history that break the rules to get the villains, and so become villains themselves,” he added.
Addressing Judge Lindsay, he said: “I think Your Honor can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time. I think Your Honor understands that one can regret the unjust things one has done, while also being concerned about the unjust things that have been done to him.”
Brown issued a statement after his sentencing that dripped with sarcastic scorn:
The US government decided today that because I did such a good job investigating the cyber-industrial complex, they’re now going to send me to investigate the prison-industrial complex.
For the next 35 months, I’ll be provided with free food, clothes, and housing as I seek to expose wrongdoing by Bureau of Prisons officials and staff and otherwise report on news and culture in the world’s greatest prison system. Wish me luck!
Kevin Gallagher, the director of the Free Barrett Brown campaign, told the Guardian that Brown’s sentencing will have a chilling effect on press freedom.
“Basically, if you share a link to publicly available material without knowing what’s in it — maybe it could contain stolen credit card info — you could be prosecuted,” said Gallagher.
“Any journalist that uses hackers as sources is extremely chilled by this,” he added.
The digital rights watchdog group Electronic Frontier Foundation called the Brown sentencing “a clarion call to not only continue the fight for government transparency and press freedom that Brown’s work represents, but to make clear that increasing the criminal penalties and devastating consequences that come with a federal criminal indictment is a bad idea.”
Brown sounded defiant in a prison phone interview with The Intercept, vowing to carry on his fight even after his release.
“We need to restore a very rigorous tradition of civil disobedience until reasonable well-informed people are confident that the powerful are not above the law,” Brown said, adding that after his release he would continue “the necessary effort of investigating misconduct” by the government and the powerful corporations that work with and influence it.
A Sparrow Network bio provides additional information about Brown:
Brown is a political satirist, freelance writer, and former activist with Anonymous. Brown has contributed to The Huffington Post, The Guardian, Vanity Fair, and has authored two books. He also founded Project PM, which over time became a crowd-sourced investigation into the activities of private intelligence contractors.