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Introducing America's least likely political prisoner
September 10, 2013 11:58 AM   Subscribe

"Brown has been called many things during his brief public career – satirist, journalist, author, Anonymous spokesman, atheist, "moral fag," "fame whore," scourge of the national surveillance state." From Rolling Stone, the story of Barrett Brown, the public face of Anonymous.
posted by Pyrogenesis (39 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
A travesty of justice.
posted by JHarris at 12:10 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


"What is most concerning about Barrett's case is the disconnect between his conduct and the charged crime," says [Brown's co-counsel Ahmed]Ghappour. "He copy-pasted a publicly available link containing publicly available data that he was researching in his capacity as a journalist. The charges require twisting the relevant statutes beyond recognition and have serious implications for journalists as well as academics. Who's allowed to look at document dumps?"

The Obama administration has amply demonstrated that the "relevant statutes" only remain relevant so long as they allow them to accomplish their ends. Brown will go to jail regardless of whether he actually violated the letter of the statutes - because we are no longer a nation with a meaningful rule of law.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:31 PM on September 10, 2013 [15 favorites]


Welcome to the panopticon. Even that hacker who stole the files is only facing 10 years.

Is there some kind of law for referencing Orwell?
posted by Max Power at 12:32 PM on September 10, 2013


Brown sits down across from his co-counsel, a young civil-liberties lawyer named Ahmed Ghappour, and raises a triumphant fist holding several sheets of notebook paper. "Penned it out," he says. "After 10 months, I'm finally getting the hang of these archaic tools."
Oh, that's worth a night in the tank right there.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:33 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]




I recently read this profile of Brown in The Nation, which I thought was a good read.
posted by whir at 12:39 PM on September 10, 2013


Looks like he has a competent lawyer.

More on his gag order, which apparently was only requested to protect Brown from himself (this seems a tad unlikely): the government argued that the gag order was needed in order to protect Brown from prejudicing his right to a fair trial by making comments to reporters.
posted by el io at 12:40 PM on September 10, 2013


"moral fag,"

"moralfag", surely.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:52 PM on September 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


More on his gag order, which apparently was only requested to protect Brown from himself (this seems a tad unlikely)

I hate to say it but it is probably a blessing in some sense. His previous statements about destroying agent Robert Smith have caused some of this mess. I don't think he will let up on the guy if he has a forum and would only make his case harder to fight.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:56 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is crazy:
By trying to criminalize linking, the federal authorities in the Northern District of Texas — Mr. Brown lives in Dallas — are suggesting that to share information online is the same as possessing it or even stealing it. In the news release announcing the indictment, the United States attorney’s office explained, “By transferring and posting the hyperlink, Brown caused the data to be made available to other persons online, without the knowledge and authorization of Stratfor and the card holders.”
posted by stoneweaver at 12:56 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


They started down road quite a while ago when they started busting torrent sites. They can't double back now even if it stops making sense or they'll have to admit they made a stupid "they're computers with them internets on them" uninformed-but-unwilling-to-admit-it call previously.

Maybe i'm just painting from the image in my head, but it's really easy to imagine not wanting to contradict yourself(and the plural yourself here, as in the royal we. One hand of the government covering the ass the other hand left open) to cover up your own ineptitude playing a part in this kind of bullshit.
posted by emptythought at 1:02 PM on September 10, 2013


The Computer Abuse and Fraud Act is morally destitute. It's one of the worst laws ever written. If you use a site in a manner the people didn't intend you an be held criminally responsible. So if Facebook or Google+ says you have to use your real name and you don't that becomes a criminal matter rather than just a bannable TOS violation.

Brown seems like a douchebag and he did threaten a federal official, but 105 years is a bit steep.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:09 PM on September 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


Is there some kind of law for referencing Orwell?

I think Orwellian will do.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:12 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


stoneweaver, why is that crazy? If you pass along a link to a file containing credit card numbers without authorization, why shouldn't you be held responsible for doing so?
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:21 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Welcome to the panopticon. Even that hacker who stole the files is only facing 10 years.

This doesn't have much to do with the idea of the panopticon. This has to do with prosecutorial overreach. Let's keep our references straight, please.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:23 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not so terribly different from passing along a map of where stolen goods had been stashed. That's probably the closest RW analog, and certainly that'd be criminal. IIRC, Volokh has an article on this sort of thing called "Crime-Facilitating Speech" or something.
posted by jpe at 1:31 PM on September 10, 2013


A smack-shooting console-cowboy nibbling at the black ICE of the quasi-legal security state and swearing enmity against his nemesis, Agent Smith. Wish I had the rights to that story.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:42 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


"stoneweaver, why is that crazy? If you pass along a link to a file containing credit card numbers without authorization, why shouldn't you be held responsible for doing so?" I think the intent should have something to do with this.

I mean, you could link to court documents that contain information you want to comment on, and they could have unredacted social security numbers, which could facilitate identity theft... But that wasn't your intent on linking to the court documents, instead it was commenting on their content.

Reporters point to document dumps all of the time. Should they be afraid of doing so because they might contain information that could facilitate a crime? That sounds like rubbish to me.
posted by el io at 1:53 PM on September 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


stoneweaver, why is that crazy? If you pass along a link to a file containing credit card numbers without authorization, why shouldn't you be held responsible for doing so?

No. It's exactly the same thing as telling you the address of a warehouse full of contraband, without mentioning anything but the street address — in fact, even if I don't know anything else. Which you'll note I can do without knowing what's in the warehouse, or indeed even if the address actually goes to anything.

But even if society does agree that should be a punishable offense, which I think might be reasonable in some circumstances based on intent or participation in a larger crime (just as it may be in the physical world), it's certainly not something that's already (legitimately) been made illegal. It's well beyond what the piece of junk statute actually intends to say.
posted by atbash at 1:55 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


stoneweaver, why is that crazy? If you pass along a link to a file containing credit card numbers without authorization, why shouldn't you be held responsible for doing so?

Because posting a link to something that potentially contains illegal content should not inherently be a crime. For example, MetaFilter posts links to all sorts of content, including data dumps from hacking groups. Should users or owners of MetaFilter be prosecuted criminally for posting those links? Should journalists covering hacking groups not be able to share links to data dumps publicly released by those hacking groups?

Not so terribly different from passing along a map of where stolen goods had been stashed.

More like a map to a public place where stolen goods are purposely displayed for everyone to see.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:55 PM on September 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


Obviously I think intent is involved no? It isn't a crime for me to draw a map so you could get your stolen good back right?

They have to establish if he linked things in order to further a crime.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:01 PM on September 10, 2013


stoneweaver, why is that crazy? If you pass along a link to a file containing credit card numbers without authorization, why shouldn't you be held responsible for doing so?

All the things said above, but also this is a rule that's completely rife for abuse. Sure, you may think it would never apply for you, but say someone *somewhere* on Metafilter posts a link to a site that *somewhere* has bad data that you shouldn't go to. And now you post a link to metafilter. Boom - you've just posted a link that contains information that's secret. Really, the implications are stifling. Is there any link that's safe to post? Not if you don't 100% own the site that you're linking to. Who knows the entirety of a site. Additionally, I don't know how much you know about that case. But there are lots of reasons to believe that the card holders were never going to be notified that their information had been stolen. Knowing the information is out there can be half the battle.

I think it's not so much about this particular case as the implications for everyone else using the internet. Once a precedent has been set that we believe merely pointing out a location of data is dangerous - how are you supposed to alert someone that their information is out in the wild? You can't tell them where it is, because doing so would be publishing that data. You can't tell the authorities it's there without being worried about linking to it getting you in trouble, too. We can't rely on people's "good will" and ability to scrutinize "intent". We need good sensible law that's not overboard.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:24 PM on September 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


This is a pretty determinedly one-sided portrait of Brown. I think there's some serious problems with the Stratfor-based charges--so much so that I doubt they'll actually stand up in court--but I don't think anybody should be at all surprised that if you publish videos of yourself saying this about an FBI agent:
"Robert Smith's life is over," says Brown. "And when I say his life is over, I don't say I'm going to go kill him, but I'm going to ruin his life and look into his fucking kids. How do you like them apples?"
you're going to be in a whole mess of legal trouble (and that, too, is something the article is deliberately fuzzy about--the serious sentences that Brown faces have to do with this explicit threat against an FBI officer and his children.)

It's all very well to say, as the journalist does:
It takes a suspension of disbelief to hear a credible physical threat as defined by law. The rail-thin Brown appears a desperate, pathetic character in need of psychiatric help.
but this is pretty much the definition of special pleading. I don't really see why we should be persuaded that a "rail-thin" and "desperate" person who is doing a bunch of drugs and has become obsessed about being persecuted by an FBI officer and has moved to making public threats about retaliating against them is obviously and self-evidently not serious.
posted by yoink at 2:41 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not so terribly different from passing along a map of where stolen goods had been stashed. That's probably the closest RW analog, and certainly that'd be criminal.

Not "passing along." Publishing.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 2:50 PM on September 10, 2013


Especially when said individual has ties to a group that has shown that they have the capability and willingness to go after people who they choose to target, especially if they are involved with something that group feels strongly about.

To argue that his threats (which, it's worth pointing out, not only targeted the FBI agent but his children as well) lacked credibility just on the basis of Brown's appearance while ignoring his background is the position that stretches disbelief, personally.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:56 PM on September 10, 2013


Of course if they'd just left him alone he'd not have made the threats....

It occurred to me the other day that I am more afraid of the NSA and the TSA and incompetent asshat cops than I am terrorists or garden variety thugs.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:04 PM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Of course if they'd just left him alone he'd not have made the threats....

That is a poor legal argument and a worse moral one.
posted by yoink at 3:06 PM on September 10, 2013


Eh, I'm not so sure. I don't tend to say polite things abut people who treat me poorly.

I wasn't defending what he said though, just saying that had he been allowed to proceed with his lawful life he might not have made illegal threats.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:09 PM on September 10, 2013


We need good sensible law that's not overboard.

Yea, really.

It should be like a richter scale/defcon thing. The lowest end being some sort of fair use/affirmative defense list of options. For example, linking to a site you reasonably couldn't know contained that stuff that you aren't involved in hosting/running.

The next step would be something like knowingly linking to a site that might contain the bad stuff, but it you aren't running that site and you didn't link specifically to illegalthing.zip or whatever.

And just add up if-thens of specific stuff that would show intent from there, ending at "this is obviously a shell game since you're involved in the operation of sites A and B and linked directly to badthing.zip"(with some language to include posting and seeding a torrent for example)

Mostly though, we just need 21st century laws written by people who understand this shit, specifically for internet crime.

Really though fuck, i'd even take just the first part of this. But that's being Soft On Crime or something.
posted by emptythought at 3:11 PM on September 10, 2013




Watch out AotS, I didn't click your link but I copied it carefully onto a dollar bill, burned it, then threw the ashes in the street while jay walking and selling a 64 ounce cup of mountain dew. God knows how many laws I just broke with your link.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:26 PM on September 10, 2013


For example, linking to a site you reasonably couldn't know contained that stuff that you aren't involved in hosting/running.

So, your Step One is that prosecutors should be reasonable?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:32 PM on September 10, 2013


That is a poor legal argument and a worse moral one.

yeah, instead he could've killed himself like Aaron Schwartz
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:51 PM on September 10, 2013


More on his gag order, which apparently was only requested to protect Brown from himself (this seems a tad unlikely): the government argued that the gag order was needed in order to protect Brown from prejudicing his right to a fair trial by making comments to reporters.

That's not to protect himself from himself; if he cannot get a fair trial, because he's innocent until proven guilty, he cannot be tried. Of course treasured aspects of our justice system have been falling left and right these days, but at least that one's still in place.

His previous statements about destroying agent Robert Smith have caused some of this mess.

Well, those are indeed ill-advised. But really, they're more juvenile than anything else, and it's hardly criminal to have a big mouth, in most cases. And that's not the thing we're concerned about; if he only goes to jail for that, then few of us would have a problem with it. It's certainly not worth 105 years.

stoneweaver, why is that crazy? If you pass along a link to a file containing credit card numbers without authorization, why shouldn't you be held responsible for doing so?

It's just a pointer. A pointer to information is not that information itself. And why would a map to stolen goods itself be criminal, beyond the theft itself? And thinking about information as property itself leads to other problems.

Especially when said individual has ties to a group that has shown that they have the capability and willingness to go after people who they choose to target, especially if they are involved with something that group feels strongly about.

"Has ties" to a "group?" We're not talking about Al Qaeda here, Anonymous is just a bunch of guys who all agree to call themselves Anonymous. We had a post here not long ago that showed there is a non-insubstantial number of Anons in the military, they're not exactly sleeper cells.

>Of course if they'd just left him alone he'd not have made the threats....
That is a poor legal argument and a worse moral one.


This is true. But still, you can expect cornered people to do desperate things, and one can see how this kind of thing would push someone to be desperate, going by the experiences of Swartz, Manning and Snowden.

So, your Step One is that prosecutors should be reasonable?

Unreasonable procecutors are part of why the legal system has progressively become suckier. What is reasonability, really, but the willingness not to go all the way absolutely possible? They wield bad laws we have little chance of changing for the time being for horrendous outcomes; we can reserve the right to think badly of that whether it's their job or not.
posted by JHarris at 11:56 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is true. But still, you can expect cornered people to do desperate things,

At the time he issued those threats (against the children of an FBI agent, remember) he had yet to be so much as indicted for any crime. I don't see how that makes him "cornered."
posted by yoink at 9:21 AM on September 11, 2013


Barrett Brown has shown some extremely poor judgement. He's a 32 year old man from a wealthy and educated background. That's old enough, and smart enough to be responsible for his outburst on YouTube.
posted by humanfont at 5:55 PM on September 11, 2013


At the time he issued those threats (against the children of an FBI agent, remember) he had yet to be so much as indicted for any crime.

Not going to defend them. Just, more than a few people say worse, and aren't threatened with 105 years of jail time.
posted by JHarris at 6:44 PM on September 11, 2013


Can you provide an example of an individual who following the execution of a search warrant against them went on YouTube, named one of the investigators and threatened the family of the same? I am skeptical of your assertion without further data. My assumption would be that anyone stupid enough to do that would be facing pretty much every possible charge the prosecutor could remotely tie the person to. The jury is going to watch that video and vote to convict on all counts.
posted by humanfont at 8:36 AM on September 12, 2013


NYTimes article: A Journalist-Agitator Facing Prison Over a Link
posted by homunculus at 3:17 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


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