After years of legal battles, Barrett Brown's legal saga has finally come to a close. Today, the independent journalist has been sentenced to 63 months in prison, after pleading guilty to charges of transmitting threats, accessory to hacking charges, and interfering with the execution of a search warrant. As Brown's legal team described the charges in the run-up to sentencing, "This breaks down to uploading YouTube videos that contained unfortunate statements, efforts to redact sensitive e-mails that had been procured by hackers, and hiding laptops in a kitchen cabinet."
"Uploading YouTube videos...and hiding laptops in a kitchen cabinet."
Brown had closely followed Anonymous during the Stratfor hack and drew the attention of law enforcement when he shared a link to an IRC channel where Anonymous members were distributing stolen information from the hack, including credit card details. That led to identity theft and fraud charges, as well as subsequent legal and evidentiary battles with the FBI, which led to the ancillary charges adjudicated today.
Brown is still best known for the fraud charges, which became a controversial example of the government crackdown on suspects connected with Anonymous. According to the Department of Justice, sharing the hyperlink was a crime because "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." Still, many argued it was absurd use a single hyperlink as grounds for identity theft, and pointed to the case as a prime example of prosecutorial overreach in computer crime cases. Many of the charges were dropped as part of a series of plea deals, which resulted in Brown's guilty plea in April.
In a sentencing statement this morning, Brown described the Stratfor hack and the shared link as still central to the government's motives in the case. "The fact that the government has still asked you to punish me for that link is proof, if any more were needed, that those of us who advocate against secrecy are to be pursued without regard for the rule of law, or even common decency," Brown told the judge.
After receiving the sentence, Brown released the following statement:
The US 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 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!
1/22 5:29pm ET: Updated to include Brown's post-sentencing statement.