When Posting a Link is a Crime
You're probably not familiar with Barrett Brown.
As news coverage of surveillance, internet intrusion and the government's intense battle against privacy and privileged communications seeps into the public consciousness, Julian Assange, Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden are almost household terms. But Brown's case and the implications that flow from it are seldom reported and, as a result, not well known.
That is itself a crime. The Texas-based journalist is sitting in jail awaiting trial on three different indictments and facing a sentence of over a century if convicted in a case that is so outrageous and frightening that it rivals the cases and plights of those better-known information distributors.
Brown is being charged, essentially, with doing something everyone (including myself right now) does on the Internet: he posted a link.
The Brown case raises all kinds of issues around freedom of expression and information but, perhaps most importantly, it uncovers a deeper and more dangerous aspect of the Obama Administration's information policy. Brown's case illustrates that, in addition to targeting the use of the Internet for spreading information, it is targeting the very act of information distribution. That includes the work that journalists routinely do but it also includes the information sharing you and I do on the Internet almost as a reflex.
It also reveals a world the government definitely doesn't want you to know about: the murky, possibly sometimes illegal, world of inter-connection between the government and a network of secretive information and cyber-security companies. That was the world Brown broke into and that, in the end, is probably his "crime".
So intense is the government's desire to keep this under wraps that on September 4 federal prosecutors imposed a gag order that forbids Brown, who is currently in prison but actively writing from there, from saying or writing anything about his case that isn't on the public record. In short, he can't tell us what he actually did and why: the information we all need to know.
Barrett Brown is a well-known and respected journalist whose articles have appeared in all kinds of publications. He's written a well-regarded book called "Flock of Dodos: Behind Modern Creationism, Intelligent Design and the Easter Bunny" and is regarded as a solid authority on surveillance and people's rights.
He also is a good example of the "activist journalist" who uses reporting as a tool for organizing and resistance. He was, for a time, the most visible "spokesperson" for the progressive hacker collective Anonymous although he apparently gave that role up before his "crimes" and at least some of the Anonymous participants were happy when he did. And in 2010, he formed an online collective named Project PM to investigate documents unearthed by Anonymous and others.
That's where the troubling story starts.