By Yaël Ossowski | Watchdog.org
His name is Barrett Brown.
Thursday, the Northern District of Texas sentenced Brown to 63 months in prison, guilty of obstruction of justice, aiding and abetting and for threatening an FBI agent.
Brown was brought to the attention of the authorities as an oft-cited spokesman for the hacking collective Anonymous, which allegedly carried out the hack against Stratfor’s servers. After the hack, Brown delivered messages on behalf of the group to the company’s CEO.
In a series of videos uploaded to Brown’s personal YouTube account in September 2012, he scolds FBI agent Robert Smith for raiding his home and seizing his personal property.
After the videos were posted, Brown was subsequently arrested and accused of hiding laptops from investigators, threatening a federal agent and “aiding and abetting” several crimes by linking to the Stratfor document.
What makes the case noteworthy is the fact Brown was targeted by the FBI for simply linking to a cache of files, not for the hack itself.
Brown originally faced more than 100 years’ jail time for posting a hyperlink in a public chatroom, according to the original federal grand jury indictment. The file contained information stolen from the servers of Stratfor in December 2011 and subsequently published on WikiLeaks.
For nearly two years, the prosecution was able to hold a gag order on Brown, restricting him from speaking to the media. This sparked a torrent of criticism from journalism watchdog groups across the country. It even earned him a mention on the Netflix series House of Cards as a “martyred” journalist.
Press freedom organizations such as Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Reporters without Borders, Freedom of the Press Foundation, and the Pen American Center filed an amicus brief with the court in March of last year, calling for an immediate dismissal of the charges against Brown.
The Committee to Protect Journalists warned about the “far-reaching consequences” of such a decision and called on the government to reconsider.
The charges related to aiding and abetting by hyperlinking were later dismissed, but the other charges remained, dooming Brown to a total jail sentence of 63 months, minus the 31 months already served.
“There is no question that threatening violence to an FBI officer is illegal,” reads a statement by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group based in San Fransisco. “But that action was caused, in part, by an extensive government investigation that turned out to be resolved with a relatively light sentence compared to the prison time Brown was facing for the underlying charges related to the Stratfor hack brought by the government.”
In his last statement before the court, Brown explained the significance of the dropped charges for journalists across the country.
“It would have given the government, and particularly the FBI, one more tool by which to persecute journalists and activists whose views they find to be dangerous or undesirable,” said Brown in his sentencing statement. “Journalists are especially vulnerable right now, Your Honor.”