Barrett Brown sentencing delayed until 22nd January 2015

It is a case that will bring to fore many emotions. A very long battle that has been raging against government intrusion in individual lives is set to reach its breaking point. One of the first people to raise his voice against the government will be sentenced soon. His case has been heard, the prosecution has made his claims and all that now remains is the final sentencing for Barrett Brown to know his fate. His sentencing has been delayed to January 22nd of next year.

Case Files

The actions of the United States government against this man has been termed fierce by many. Prosecutors in the Northern District of Texas have written that Brown, along with the activist group Anonymous, sought to overthrow the U.S. government. He was arrested under hacking charges that put him on the way to get a 100 year long prison sentence. A lot of what was happening never made the headlines as the prosecution succeeded in getting a gag order on the case, limiting what part of the case could be made public. The source of his troubles was a website ProjectPM, which Brown created so that people could share data which could be used by journalists and activists. Perhaps the most bizarre part of this case came when Brown’s mother was subjected to a federal prosecution resulting in a 6 month probation and a fine of a $1000.

He was taken into custody in the dead of the night in a heavily-armed FBI raid of his Dallas apartment, and has been jailed without bail ever since – over two years now. After several delays, his case concluded in a plea agreement, where he faces 8½ years maximum for:

(1) transmitting a threat in interstate commerce

(2) accessory after the fact in the unauthorized access to a protected computer and

(3) interference with the execution of a search warrant and aid and abet.

Brown’s Heroics

Someone reading this for the first time will be overwhelmed thinking what crime could’ve called for such a rain down of law enforcement. Well, his is a story worth laurels that has gone untold. He spent the beginning of 2011 advocating the effectiveness of Anonymous as a force that could bring transparency to institutions and governments through digital protest. He took the thousands of e-mails that were hacked by Anonymous, first from HBGary Federal, and later from Stratfor, and enlisted others to help search through them for revelations of journalistic import.

The findings, probably shocked Brown himself. He found proof of a misinformation campaign against Wikileaks and its supporters,  large scale monitoring across social networks, a capability for one analyst to control multiple online sock-puppets, and surveillance systems that seemed far-fetched until you read the e-mails for yourself and grasp the magnitude of the “cyber-intelligence complex” involved.

Brown was still sounding the alarm bells against one firm in particular –  Booz Allen Hamilton, when he was arrested on September 12, 2012. His alarm bells were destined to fall silent until another individual by the name of Edward Snowden came about and famously exposed the mockery of human privacy at the hands of the NSA.

At the time, his warnings seemed very much realistic. Brown being one of the few journalists with the guts to write about government contractors and their repurcusions, an issue which has managed to stay behind curtians. Brown made his revelations through various mediums, which included a series of YouTube videos. In the last of these videos, Brown probably frustrated and angry with the treatment he had been at the receiving end of, went on a rant culminating in threatening the FBI investigator in charge of his case and his children. Unfortunately, he walked right into a trap as this eventually became one of the reasons to keep him behind bars.

Fall Out

The were charges leveled against him that included an incident in which he shared a link to stolen credit card information taken from a hack of Stratfor. Then there were the charges for linking to stolen information which were dropped earlier this year. Prosecutors sought to punish Brown with decades in prison for the copy and pasting of a hyperlink to a file that he hadn’t even opened that happened to contain credit card numbers which he never used. They came to their senses after a strong legal argument by the defense in favor of dismissal, along with the threat of an amicus brief from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. But the lack of a precedent on this matter means that the government may prosecute another journalist for linking to stolen information down the line.

Numerous prominent individuals, including Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald have spoken out in his defense, as well as organizations like WikiLeaks, CPJ, EFF, Reporters Without Borders, PEN American, and Article 19. Brown was even mentioned in season 2 of the Netflix drama House of Cards, wherein the hacktivist character Gavin, played by Jimmi Simpson, issues a demand to an FBI agent for his release. Granted he might have acted in ways that can arguably caused harm. But no one deserves to be behind bars just fro sharing a link, or for creating a threatening video.

While the clamor by the government to keep him imprisoned has been frantic, this case has brought to the fore thoughts about freedom of speech of American citizens. It is said that the manner in which a country treats its dissidents displays the level of freedom in the country. From the cases that keep coming up, people are beginning to fear the US might become a China – a country with only superficial freedom. In view of the lack of tangible harm or damage, and the chilling or deterrent effects of the prosecution, further punishment seems unreasonable. Brown’s not a hacker, he’s a writer; yet he’s been treated as a dangerous criminal.

The question remains, did Barrett Brown commit such gruesome crimes ? or is the government just trying to protect its own gruesome acts ?



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