Federal prosecutors moved to dismiss charges against a journalist and Internet activist who faced decades in prison for publishing a hyperlink containing hacked information, The Guardian reports.
A US attorney for the Northern District of Texas filed a motion Wednesday to dismiss eleven of twelve charges against Barrett Brown in a case accusing him of trafficking data and credit card information stolen from private intelligence firm Stratfor. The hack was carried out by members of the Internet collective Anonymous. Brown, who was not found to be involved with the hack himself, allegedly republished a hyperlink to the Stratfor file in a chatroom.
The government’s motion for dismissal comes a day after Brown’s attorneys formally requested the link-sharing charges be dropped. In a forty-eight page memo, Brown’s attorneys argued that their client did not make the Stratfor file “available to other persons online” because it was already publicly available at the time. They also argued that charging Brown for merely sharing a link violated his free speech rights, calling the indictment “unconstitutionally overbroad” and warning that the case could “chill speech in violation of the First Amendment.”
Brown’s case galvanized lawyers, Internet activists and free speech advocates who feared that convictions on his link-sharing charges could set a dangerous precedent for journalists that source from hacked data.
“By the US, government’s theory, journalists can be held criminally liable merely for linking to a publicly-available file that contains sensitive information, whether or not they had any part in actually obtaining the data in the first place,” wrote Geoffrey King, Internet Advocacy Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, before Brown’s charges were dropped. “This theory threatens the nature of the Web, as well as the ethical duty of journalists to verify and report the truth.”
Brown is still accused of access device fraud related to the Stratfor case. He also faces separate charges of obstruction of justice, threatening a federal agent and conspiracy to disclose information about a federal agent.
According to The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington, the dismissals in Brown’s case removed thirty-five years from a maximum prison sentence of 105 years.