The U.S. government filed a motion to dismiss most of its criminal case against self-
proclaimed Anonymous spokesman 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.
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. Before he was arrested, Brown posted a YouTube video titled: “Why I’m Going to Destroy FBI Agent Robert Smith Part Three: Revenge of the Lithe.”
Brown still faces the possibility of significant jail time. According to news reports, the maximum sentences on the remaining charges amount to 70 years.
— Andrea Peterson
Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein was in Washington on Wednesday to help the World Bank launch a $600 million fund to finance women-owned businesses in developing countries.
The Wall Street powerhouse seeded the fund with a $50 million investment, while the World Bank contributed $100 million through its International Finance Corp. The team hopes to attract other corporate investors and donors to raise the target.
The new venture, called the Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility, aims to help close the estimated $300 billion credit gap that the IFC says exists for women-owned businesses. The facility will extend lines of credit and shoulder risk with local banks in developing countries to provide 100,000 women financing to grow their companies.
For Goldman, the venture is an outgrowth of its 10,000 Women initiative, which has provided business training to female entrepreneurs since 2008. Blankfein said by the end of 2013 the program had helped 10,000 women from 43 countries though a network of 90 academic and nonprofit partners.
As for the new fund, Blankfein said, “We hope the facility will demonstrate to banks, other commercial ventures around the world what powerful investments women are.”
● Severe weather across much of the United States took a toll on shopping and consumer spending in recent weeks, leading to slower economic growth or outright contraction in some areas of the country, the Federal Reserve said in its anecdotal Beige Book report. Economic activity in January and February shrank slightly in two of the Fed’s 12 districts, New York and Philadelphia, mostly due to “unusually severe weather.” Growth slowed in Chicago and activity was stable in Kansas City. While the other eight districts reported growth, the Fed said it was characterized as “modest to moderate” in most cases, an overall downgrade from its last report Jan. 15.
● Barclays paid almost 500 employees more than 1 million pounds ($1.67 million) last year, prompting criticism that pay is still too high and that banks have not changed their ways since the financial crisis. Barclays and Lloyds Banking Group revealed in their annual reports that their chief executives could each earn more than 7 million pounds this year and that both banks were seeking approval from shareholders to pay some staff bonuses of double their fixed pay.
● Facebook said it is cracking down on posts on its social networks that promote illegal gun sales. Some people have been using the network to advertise the sale of firearms in the same way that people use online bulletin boards. The practice, particularly the potential for minors to see the posts, has raised alarms among gun-safety advocates. In a company blog post, Facebook said it is launching a series of educational and enforcement efforts to fight the ads, brought to light in recent months by groups such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
● Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a swing through Silicon Valley to meet with high-tech leaders and sign a pro-business agreement with California Gov. Jerry Brown (D). During a meeting at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, the two emphasized their joint interests in cybersecurity, energy sources and water conservation, and suggested that Israel might be able to help California cope with its ongoing drought.
● Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said he has filed criminal charges against Chesapeake Energy and Encana, accusing the oil and gas giants of colluding to avoid bidding against each other for Michigan leases. Schuette said the antitrust violations happened in 2010, when Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake and Calgary, Alberta-based Encana bought natural gas leases in Michigan.
— From staff reports, news services
● Daylong: Chain store sales.
● 8:30 a.m.: Weekly jobless claims.
● 10 a.m.: Weekly mortgage rates.
● Earnings: Costco, H&R Block, Kroger.