Barrett Brown, former informal spokesman for Anonymous, investigative journalist, and activist, was sentenced to 63 months in prison and $890,000 in restitution yesterday for what Brown’s backers insist was “merely linking to hacked material.” The sentencing marked the end of a hard campaign by the Department of Justice. At one point, prosecutors were seeking up to 100 years. The punishment is a chilling wake-up call for journalists.
The “hacked material” in question was a trove of documents and emails by private intelligence contractors, hacked by Anonymous, which Brown picked through–along with others in 2011. What the hackers found was stunning, but not surprising: a disinformation campaign against Wikileaks, monitoring of social networks, mechanisms for single analysts to use multiple sock puppet accounts, and surveillance systems.
Brown is not a hacker himself, but was considered a de facto spokesman for Anonymous and championed their efforts to bring transparency to government. The biggest charge against Brown: linking to those hacked documents in a chatroom. Brown supporters and Internet watchdogs alike have been very alarmed, as the court charged Brown with leaking stolen credit card information–which just happened to be in the trove of hacked documents.
Though the credit card charge was later dropped, it’s still a major concern that any journalist working with hackers, or merely linking others to hacked documents, would be liable for whatever sensitive data might lie within.
Brown claims to have split from Anonymous in 2011; his home was raided by the FBI in March 2012. Brown hid his laptops, for which he was charged with obstruction of justice. Six months later, Brown uploaded a three-part video series in which he ranted against the FBI and vowed to defend himself from future raids. He was arrested the day he uploaded them.
Brown was held for two weeks before being charged with making an online threat, retaliating against a federal agent, and threatening to release information (“doxing”) on the agent–all in the aforementioned videos, which Brown later admitted to and apologized for in court. Two months later, the DOJ levied a dozen charges against Brown for the 2011 hacking of private intelligence contractor Stratfor.
Brown, already imprisoned for 31 months over the course of the trial, struck a plea deal and the DOJ dropped several of the charges except for the online threats against the federal agent. Prosecutors asked for 8.5 years, while numerous tech advocates and supporters wrote in briefs requesting Brown be sentenced to time served.
As The Daily Beast explains, the Northern District of Texas prosecutors’ case against Brown was extreme: They charged Brown (alongside Anonymous) with plotting to overthrow the U.S. government, tried to seize funds raised for Brown’s defense, obtained a gag order to keep Brown and his prosecutors from speaking about the case, and even brought a case against Brown’s mother for helping Brown hide his laptops. She was sentenced to six months probation and fined $1,000.
Proving that the DOJ couldn’t shake his humor, Brown released this statement after sentencing:
“Good news! — The U.S. 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.”
[via The Guardian ]