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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Barrett Brown: Sentenced 63 Months For Posting Public Hack Link To Chat Room


In a message released almost 2 days ago at the time of this writing, Quinn Norton, former partner of Aaron Swartz, has made an announcement saying that she will go first in stepping away from security journalism. It is in relation to the incarceration of journalist Barrett Brown for posting a link; on the matters of journalism, and the “murky” waters that security reporters and journalists face.

It seems the case and sentencing (relating to the private intelligence firm, Stratfor, which hacker, Jeremy Hammond would later receive ten years for that leak.) of Barrett Brown, who also had connections to Anonymous until 2011, has resonated throughout the hacker/security journalist community. Quinn Norton is stepping back from the journalism that helped establish her career – out of fear of incarceration herself, until legislation reflects that she is not a criminal.


Originally, Barrett Brown had been charged with posting an archived but publicly available credit card link of Hammonds’, relating to the private intelligence Stratfor hack, in a chat room. The felony charge was dropped, but according to Norton who was witness at the court proceedings, was picked up again as a “sentencing enhancement by the prosecution.” This is considered relevant conduct by the legal system, irrespective of case, according to Norton.

It is an interesting case to watch unfold. But unfortunately for Brown, he’ll be watching it from his prison cell as he serves his 63 month sentence handed down by a federal judge in Dallas this week. He was also ordered to pay $890000 in restitution and fines.

Admitting, Norton concedes that the actions of Barrett Brown were wrong on two counts. He crossed the line as a journalist posting the link, and he did cross the line when he threatened another man when he made a post on YouTube. But this isn’t the heart of the matter, according to Norton, who suggests that the government was utterly wrong in laying charges for copying and pasting a publicly available link in the capacity as a journalist, to a chat room.

As a response to the sentencing, Barrett did rebuke the sentencing as setting a “dangerous precedent.” But he remained upbeat, stating sarcastically “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.”

At one point, Barrett, who has written for the likes of The Guardian, Huffington Post and Vanity Fair, was facing over a 100 year sentence, but several chargeswere dropped by prosecutors. He was also responsible for founding Project PM, a think-tank dedicated to investigating companies involved in abuses in the area of surveillance; according to Rolling Stone a “a $56 billion industry that consumes 70 percent of the U.S. intelligence budget.”


In a response to these convictions, Norton and others have stepped back from hacker related security journalism. Norton is one. Ladar Levison, who ran the Lavabit email service used by Edward Snowden, NSA whistleblower, was also in court for Brown’s verdict. Levison closed down his service rather than hand over to the FBI encrypted keys to Lavabit.

“It’s the type of verdict which leads honorable men to take up the quill and pen strong statements. I fear that for some people words will not be sufficient,” Levison told the Guardian.

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