A federal judge granted a U.S. attorney’s gag order against jailed journalist Barrett Brown on Wednesday, silencing a long-time critic of the surveillance state while he awaits trial on charges that many say criminalize the journalistic practice of posting links to publicly-available information.
Under the new order, Brown and his attorneys are prevented from speaking to anyone, especially established journalists, about any aspect of the federal case against him.
In the past, Brown conducted interviews from jail about the case and also published a few articles from prison regarding what he calls the “cyber-industrial complex.”
“The USDOJ just stuffed a rag in Barrett Brown’s mouth, as well as his lawyers,” the hacking group Anonymous tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “We need to continue his work.”
If convicted, Brown faces up to 105 years in prison for what some believe are vastly overblown and politicized charges.
The 32-year-old is a well-known writer and “hacktivist” with ties to Anonymous, the loose connection of computer hackers which regularly bedevils government and corporate entities alike.
He was arrested last September following an FBI investigation into his reports on thousands of e-mails from the private security firm HB Gary, which were stolen by Anonymous and published on Wikileaks.
The investigators harassed Brown for months, even threatening his mother. After months of intense scrutiny, Brown posted a distraught YouTube video expressing his anger and frustration at the FBI.
Agents pounced, arresting Brown immediately and accusing him of threatening an FBI agent. The Department of Justice later charged that Brown also attempted to conceal evidence and, crucially, that he illegally disseminated information stolen by Anonymous from Stratfor, another security contractor.
The hackers sent millions of Stratfor’s e-mails to Wikileaks, which immediately published the data. Brown, in turn, posted a link to the data on his journalistic website, ProjectPM. Some of the e-mails contained the personal credit card information of Stratfor subscribers.
The federal government says the link was criminal, an opinion shared even by some journalists.
“It appears that evidence against Brown should make his an open-and-shut case,” Robert McCain wrote in the American Spectator last June.
But many more reporters disagree, saying that linking to publicly-available data is a routine yet vital journalistic practice.
“Is it a crime for someone to simply share a link to stolen information?” asked Adrian Chen, a Gawker reporter and harsh critic of Anonymous. “Brown’s in legal trouble for copying and pasting a link from one chat room to another. This is scary to anyone who ever links to anything.”
Reporters for the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted that under those same rules, many journalists who linked to the anonymous publication of Congressional staffers’ e-mail information last July could also face prosecution.
Glenn Greenwald from The Guardian believes that the “disseminating stolen information” charge is just an excuse.
“There is no evidence that the link he posted to already published documents resulted in any unauthorized use of credit cards,” he wrote, “and certainly never redounded in any way to his benefit.”
“Brown’s acts… were political in nature, and the excessive prosecution is equally political,” Greenwald concluded.
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