The government is dropping the hyperlink charges against Barrett Brown


(Youtube)

The U.S. government has filed a motion to dismiss most of its criminal case against self-proclaimed Anonymous spokesperson and journalist Barrett Brown -- including all charges related to a hyperlink Brown had posted that pointed readers to online files where they could access thousands of stolen credit card numbers.

Besides carrying the threat of significant jail time for Brown, the charges raised broader First Amendment issues: Are journalists complicit in a crime when they point people to illicit information?

Brown's hyperlink was posted in his Internet relay chat channel in 2011 and led Web users to information stemming from an Anonymous hack of Strategic Forecasting, which resulted in the leak of thousands of credit card numbers and hundreds of thousands of e-mails from Stratfor's customers. The same hyperlink had already appeared in a separate chat room.

Brown was arrested nearly a year later in 2012. Civil liberty and First Amendment groups protested. "The right of journalists—or anyone for that matter—to link to already-public information, including sensitive information, is in serious jeopardy if Brown is convicted," wrote Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Hanni Fakhoury in a blog post about the case last year.

Despite the motion by the government Wednesday, Brown still faces one charge of possessing stolen credit card numbers from the original indictment as well as charges for allegedly concealing evidence from the FBI and making threats against an FBI agent. Hours before he was arrested, Brown posted a YouTube video entitled: "Why I'm Going to Destroy FBI Agent Robert Smith Part Three: Revenge of the Lithe."

That means Brown still faces the possibility of significant jail time. The Guardian reports the maximum sentences on the remaining charges amount to 70 years.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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