Golly, I feel so safe

Golly, I feel so safe

by digby

From David Carr of the New York Times:
Barrett Brown makes for a pretty complicated victim. A Dallas-based journalist obsessed with the government’s ties to private security firms, Mr. Brown has been in jail for a year, facing charges that carry a combined penalty of more than 100 years in prison.

Professionally, his career embodies many of the conflicts and contradictions of journalism in the digital era. He has written for The Guardian, Vanity Fair and The Huffington Post, but as with so many of his peers, the line between his journalism and his activism is nonexistent. He has served in the past as a spokesman of sorts for Anonymous, the hacker collective, although some members of the group did not always appreciate his work on its behalf.

In 2007, he co-wrote a well-received book, “Flock of Dodos: Behind Modern Creationism, Intelligent Design and the Easter Bunny,” and over time, he has developed an expertise in the growing alliance between large security firms and the government, arguing that the relationship came at a high cost to privacy.
He is also, by all accounts, an eccentric personality who is hard to get along with. And he's facing life in prison for ... linking. Seriously:
In 2010, he formed an online collective named Project PM with a mission of investigating documents unearthed by Anonymous and others. If Anonymous and groups like it were the wrecking crew, Mr. Brown and his allies were the people who assembled the pieces of the rubble into meaningful insights.

Project PM first looked at the documents spilled by the hack of HBGary Federal, a security firm, in February 2011 and uncovered a remarkable campaign of coordinated disinformation against advocacy groups, which Mr. Brown wrote about in The Guardian, among other places.

Peter Ludlow, a professor of philosophy at Northwestern and a fan of Mr. Brown’s work, wrote in The Huffington Post that, “Project PM under Brown’s leadership began to slowly untangle the web of connections between the U.S. government, corporations, lobbyists and a shadowy group of private military and infosecurity consultants.”

In December 2011, approximately five million e-mails from Stratfor Global Intelligence, an intelligence contractor, were hacked by Anonymous and posted on WikiLeaks. The files contained revelations about close and perhaps inappropriate ties between government security agencies and private contractors. In a chat room for Project PM, Mr. Brown posted a link to it.

Among the millions of Stratfor files were data containing credit cards and security codes, part of the vast trove of internal company documents. The credit card data was of no interest or use to Mr. Brown, but it was of great interest to the government. In December 2012 he was charged with 12 counts related to identity theft. Over all he faces 17 charges — including three related to the purported threat of the F.B.I. officer and two obstruction of justice counts — that carry a possible sentence of 105 years, and he awaits trial in a jail in Mansfield, Tex.

According to one of the indictments, by linking to the files, Mr. Brown “provided access to data stolen from company Stratfor Global Intelligence to include in excess of 5,000 credit card account numbers, the card holders’ identification information, and the authentication features for the credit cards.”
He's not accused of stealing it, selling it or using it. He's accused of linking to it.
By trying to criminalize linking, the federal authorities in the Northern District of Texas — Mr. Brown lives in Dallas — are suggesting that to share information online is the same as possessing it or even stealing it. In the news release announcing the indictment, the United States attorney’s office explained, “By transferring and posting the hyperlink, Brown caused the data to be made available to other persons online, without the knowledge and authorization of Stratfor and the card holders.”

And the magnitude of the charges is confounding. Jeremy Hammond, a Chicago man who pleaded guilty to participating in the actual hacking of Stratfor in the first place, is facing a sentence of 10 years.

Last week, Mr. Brown and his lawyers agreed to an order that allows him to continue to work on articles, but not say anything about his case that is not in the public record.

Speaking by phone on Thursday, Charles Swift, one of his lawyers, spoke carefully.

“Mr. Brown is presumed innocent of the charges against him and in support of the presumption, the defense anticipates challenging both the legal assumptions and the facts that underlie the charges against him,” he said.

Others who are not subject to the order say the aggressive set of charges suggests the government is trying to send a message beyond the specifics of the case.

“The big reason this matters is that he transferred a link, something all of us do every single day, and ended up being charged for it,” said Jennifer Lynch, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group that presses for Internet freedom and privacy. “I think that this administration is trying to prosecute the release of information in any way it can.”
It must be noted that after the FBI charged his mother for obstruction of justice for allegedly trying to hide his laptop Brown went a little nuts and threatened the FBI in a rambling, drugged up Youtube. But the big charges against him are for the linkage, not the threat. Basically, he's being charged with hundreds of years in prison for linking to stolen documents which has been done by well ... all of us who write about politics online. I just did it the other day when I linked to der Spiegel's latest NSA story. Certainly all the journalists who work on stories with classified documents are potential targets.

It's this sort of governmental overreach, harassment and intimidation that makes all the unctuous calls for "Ed" Snowden to come back and face a trial absurd. They drove Aaron Swarz to suicide.  They're harassing this guy into mental breakdown.  Why would anyone believe that the government would act in a fair manner toward someone like Snowden who's been accused of espionage on top of it all?

I have no doubt that it's had an effect on journalists. Obviously, those who work for big institutions have a degree of safety with rooms full of lawyers and the protection of their friends in the media.  But even they feel the pressure from the examples of reporters for  like James Risen of the New York Times and be likely to hold back.  Certainly their sources are.  And I guess that's the point.  Too bad for the people they've chosen to use as "examples."

BTW: His lawyer, Charles Swift, is a certified American hero in my book.  At least Brown is well defended by someone who understands fully what he's up against.

Update: Here's another example of harassment for alleged illegal linking. This one happened just yesterday. To a university professor. Now the NSA doesn't even have to act. Institutions that do business with it will do it for them.