Journalist’s Crime? Posting a Link

Barrett Brown is not the ideal journalist. But that does not justify the U.S. government’s attempts to throw the man in jail for one hundred years.

His crime? Posting a link online.

New York Times’s columnist David Carr writes about Brown’s case.

Brown’s main interest as a reporter and activist is the connection between private security firms and the U.S. government. Brown had been investigating documents exposed by the hacker group Anonymous and others.

Carr writes:

In December 2011, approximately five million e-mails from Stratfor Global Intelligence, an intelligence contractor, were hacked by Anonymous and posted on WikiLeaks. The files contained revelations about close and perhaps inappropriate ties between government security agencies and private contractors. In a chat room for Project PM, Mr. Brown posted a link to it.

Among the millions of Stratfor files were data containing credit cards and security codes, part of the vast trove of internal company documents. The credit card data was of no interest or use to Mr. Brown, but it was of great interest to the government. In December 2012 he was charged with 12 counts related to identity theft. Over all he faces 17 charges — including three related to the purported threat of the F.B.I. officer and two obstruction of justice counts — that carry a possible sentence of 105 years, and he awaits trial in a jail in Mansfield, Tex.

The federal government is trying to criminalize linking, and journalists do that all the time. Just last week, The New York Times, The Guardian, and ProPublica collaborated on a NSA story that included links to leaked information provided by Edward Snowden.

This heavy-handedness fits into the Obama Administration’s going after leaks in any way possible. And it’s not just the Obama Administration. The Brits are going after journalists, too, which is why The Guardian worked with The New York Times and ProPublica on the NSA story. The British government had threatened the Guardian’s top editor and ultimately forced him to destroy hard drives containing the leaked documents.

It’s troubling how vehemently the Obama Administration is going after whistleblowers. And it’s troubling that it’s going after reporters, too. Don’t forget, the government has filed an affidavit that accuses a Fox News reporter of felonies for working with a source.

But with the Brown case, the feds may be stumbling into new territory.

“The big reason this matters is that he transferred a link, something all of us do every single day, and ended up being charged for it,” Jennifer Lynch, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group that presses for Internet freedom and privacy, told Carr. “I think that this Administration is trying to prosecute the release of information in any way it can.”

Remember when people talked about voting for Obama because of civil liberties? That seems like a long, long time ago.

Follow Elizabeth DiNovella @lizdinovella on Twitter