Journalist Barrett Brown is a victim of US legal overreach and has been prosecuted merely for investigating private companies involved in dubious espionage activities. In less than four weeks time, on November 24th, he is due to be sentenced. Much of what he exposed has been published by a number of leading newspapers. Those newspapers bear responsibility in ensuring Brown is released or that his sentence be equated to time served.
In April key charges against Brown were dropped, including the most controversial that he transferred stolen property by posting a hyperlink to a website containing hacked material. The US government’s decision to drop these charges came just a day after lawyers for Brown filed a legal memorandum calling for those counts to be dropped. Brown’s attorneys argued in the memo that the prosecution was a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech, saying that “republishing a hyperlink does not itself move, convey, select, place or otherwise transfer, a file or document from one location to another”.
Consequently the remaining charges included transmitting a threat in interstate commerce, obstructing the execution of a search warrant (by allegedly hiding the laptops), and being an accessory after the fact to an unauthorized access to a protected computer (the last count refers to Brown’s efforts to keep Jeremy Hammond, now in prison for hacking Stratfor, from getting caught).
Of these remaining charges, here is a breakdown, according to his support group, of what they really mean…
1. Reporter’s privilege and free speech. The laptops that Barrett is charged with obstruction for concealing contained journalistic sources and work product, including a book-in-progress. The First Amendment is understood as protecting reporters from revealing confidential information or sources, but we are seeing our constitutional values eroded by DOJ investigations into national security leaks. The FBI raid which led to these charges was based on false information, and there was no crime to investigate. It was nothing more than an attempt to stifle Barrett’s reporting on the private/public partnership on surveillance concerns and inhibit his research.
2. Press and information freedom. We believe that Barrett is being persecuted because of his work exposing the activities of private security and intelligence companies that do the government’s dirty work and spy on the public. If citizens are not allowed to research the growing surveillance state, what will happen in the future to privacy, transparency and our civil liberties? His case is having chilling effects on those who would seek to shed light on corruption and abuse among government contractors.
3. Selective prosecution. We think that this case is a prime example of prosecutorial overreach. Despite Aaron Swartz’s suicide, the government is still waging an unjust war on whistleblowers, journalists, and information activists. People are being prosecuted for political acts or merely because the government doesn’t agree with them. Why is Barrett being charged when numerous other people, including established reporters, shared the same link? Moreover, why is the FBI so afraid of the speech of a 5’9″ 150lb writer as to warrant heavily armed raids on his apartment?
Brown may face up to 8.5 years in prison (as opposed to the ridiculous 115 years he was originally threatened with). For more on the campaign in support of Brown, click here. To See Brown’s ProjectPM, click here. Bown also contributed to the investigations into Cubic Corporation and their alleged links to the Trapwire mass surveillance system.