Freelance journalist and activist Barrett Brown was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison Thursday on charges of threatening an FBI agent and obstructing a federal investigation into his reporting on the anarchist hacking collective Anonymous.
Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of more than eight years, while his defense had asked for time served. Brown has been in jail for 28 months on charges originally stemming from his posting of a link to credit card information dumped on the Web by Anonymous member Jeremy Hammond. The card data belonged to thousands of customers of the private security firm Stratfor, and Hammond dumped it on an Internet bulletin board along with emails and other confidential data after hacking the company’s website.
Brown posted a link to the dump in a chat room — something he said he did to facilitate “crowdsourcing” of research into the documents.
Brown pleaded guilty to three charges in the case, down from the dozen initially filed against him. He admitted to transmitting a threat, obstruction and being an accessory after the fact to unauthorized computer access due to his relationship with Hammond, who was convicted of the Stratfor hack in November 2013.
The case has been a flashpoint in the ongoing debate over the legal framework around hacking. Brown’s supporters called the prosecution a violation of free speech and the criminalization of linking. The investigation by the FBI agent Brown threatened — in a rambling YouTube video — was focused on charges that he was “trafficking” stolen data by posting Hammond’s link to the stolen documents.
His advocates say the case has increased importance now that President Barack Obama announced his proposals to beef up the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the criminal statute in most hacking cases.
In a statement, Brown called the sentence “good news.”
“The U.S. 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,” Brown said.
“For the next 35 months, I’ll be provided with free food, clothes, and housing as I seek to expose wrongdoing by Bureau of Prisons officials and staff and otherwise report on news and culture in the world’s greatest prison system. … Wish me luck!”