Barrett Brown and the United States' war on journalism
The criminalization of journalism in the United States continued yesterday with the sentencing of Barrett Brown, an independent journalist who covered the Anonymous collective who received 63 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay $890,000 in restitution. (The 28 months he has already served in prison will be deducted from the sentence.)
Brown was arrested for publishing links to stolen information which was made public by Anonymous and other hacker groups. That's right: merely linking to already-public data which happened to have been stolen has resulted in outrageous fees and time in prison.
Prosecutors originally charged Brown with an assortment of crimes which could have landed him more than 100 years in prison -- many of the charges were dropped after he pled guilty to the lesser offenses leading to this greatly-reduced sentence.
Free Barrett Brown campaign director Kevin Gallagher told the Guardian that the trial sets a dangerous precedent for attacking reporters working with stolen material, adding that "any journalist that uses hackers as sources is extremely chilled by this [decision.]"
Gallagher previously argued in the New York Observer that Brown was a satirist whose sense of humor, combined with his particular disdain for governmental overreach, made him an attractive target for a law enforcement apparatus struggling to fight Anonymous.
The government has taken an increasingly worrisome stance on journalism over the last several years, whether it's about protecting confidential sources at the risk of being held in contempt of court or the surveillance of journalists and the seizure of their files.
Brown's sentencing shows attitude this isn't only a threat to journalists covering intelligence agencies or the military -- it also puts at risk reporters who work closely with various groups, such as Anonymous, that the federal government desperately wants to silence.
Here's Brown's statement on his sentencing, as published by the Sparrow Project:
“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. 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. I want to thank the Department of Justice for having put so much time and energy into advocating on my behalf; rather than holding a grudge against me for the two years of work I put into in bringing attention to a DOJ-linked campaign to harass and discredit journalists like Glenn Greenwald, the agency instead labored tirelessly to ensure that I received this very prestigious assignment. — Wish me luck!”