• Barrett Brown: The Criminalization of Web Links

    March 7, 2014

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State, Post-Constitution America

    This– A LINK— could have sent me to jail. Another link came very, very close to sending Barrett Brown to jail.

    First, a quick recap of how the internet works. People from all over the world put stuff on the web (“posts”). In many cases you the viewer do not know who posted something, when they did it, where they live or where they obtained the information they posted. It is just there on your screen. If the info is of interest, you can link to it, sending instructions via chat, email, HTML, Facebook or whatever to someone else, telling them where to find the information.

    The act of linking is analogous to saying “Hey, did you see that article in the Times on page 4? Check it out.” It is kind of what the internet is about. Here’s how the government seeks to criminalize linking from one article on the web to another.

    The United States v. Barrett Brown

    Barrett Brown is an internet guy. He may or may not have been involved with web naughty boys Anonymous and most certainly was deeply involved with broad free speech issues online. In 2011 Brown posted a link in a chatroom, pointing to data that was obtained during the late-2011 hack of Stratfor Global Intelligence. The link pointed to the Wikileaks site.

    The government arrested Brown and charged him with a number of offenses, the most significant of which was for posting that link. The link, the government contended, exposed enormous amounts of credit card information, a crime. Not mentioned by the government, the link also documented discussions of assassination, rendition and how to undermine journalists and foreign governments.

    To be clear, neither the government nor anyone else accused Brown of stealing the info himself, or misusing the info to use others’ credit cards, physically possessing the information, hosting it on a server he controlled or anything like that. His crime was simply linking to data that already existed on the internet and which was already available worldwide for viewing.

    (To be further clear, Brown is no choirboy. He was once addicted to heroin, is accused of threatening an FBI agent on YouTube and who knows, may be mean to strangers. And so what. What matters is his actions, not his Match.com profile.)

    Browns Wins, Though Broader Issues Remain

    The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) supported Brown throughout his arrest. Because the government imposed a gag order on Brown speaking publicly about his situation, friends such as the EFF were critical in keeping the case in the public eye. The significance of Brown’s case was made quite clear by the EFF:

    The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas today [March 5, 2014] filed a motion to dismiss eleven charges against Barrett Brown in a criminal prosecution that would have had massive implications for journalism and the right of ordinary people to share links. EFF has written extensively about the case and had planned to file an amicus brief on Monday on behalf of several reporters groups arguing for the dismissal of the indictment.

    Brown, an independent journalist, was prosecuted after he shared a link to thousands of pages of stolen documents in an attempt to crowdsource the review of those documents—a common technique for many journalists. The records came from the US government contractor, Stratfor Global Intelligence and documented discussions of assassination, rendition and how to undermine journalists and foreign governments. They also included thousands of stolen credit card numbers. Brown had no involvement in the hack, but was charged nonetheless with identity theft.


    Looking for a Test Case

    Though the government in its Motion to Dismiss gave no reasons for its decision, the implication is that while the government was clearly looking to set a precendent on the Brown case, it did not want that precedent to be a loss. Better to let a small fry like Brown swim away than risk the greater principle the government seeks.

    Having failed to find any legal or otherwise effective way to deal with sites like Wikileaks, or the publication of classified materials elsewhere on the internet, the government is taking a side-step in seeking to punish those that use, view or handle the material itself.

    U.S. Government Orders its Employees to Not Look at Wikileaks and Others

    For example, when the Wikileaks information first started pouring out across the web, most government agencies blocked access to the data via their firewalls, claiming the content was still classified and thus could not be viewed on a government computer even while it could be viewed on any other web-connected computer from Cleveland to Karachi. Similar blocks have been put in place to prevent much of the Snowden material from being viewed at work.

    Before Barrett Brown, Me

    The attempt by the government to punish people for links to “objectionable” material did not start with Brown. Though I can’t promise I was the first test case, I was certainly an early attempt.

    In 2010 the Department of State suspended the Top Secret security clearance I had held without incident or question for over twenty years because I linked to a supposedly classified document on the Wikileaks site from this blog.

    State referred my linkage to the Department of Justice for prosecution in fall 2010. When Justice declined without reason to pursue the case, State took the non-judicial action of “temporarily” suspending my security clearance indefinitely, because of the link. State claimed that via that link I revealed classified information publicly, a major no-no for cleared personnel and sought to fire me. As in the Brown case, in the end State choose not to pursue charges, again without comment.

    There may be other such link cases out there that we do not yet know of. They may be classified, or the parties involved may be under gag orders as was Brown.



    Who’s Next?

    There appears little question that the government is testing the concept, looking for a case that it can win that would criminalize linking. From the government’s point of view, the win would pay off handsomely:

    — With use of their content criminalized, sites like Wikileaks would slip beneath the world radar. People would be increasingly afraid of reading them, and the crowdsourcing critical to sifting through millions of documents would slow down significantly.

    — In cases the government saw as particularly dangerous, people would disappear into jail. With a precedent set in a “good” test case, winning such prosecutions would be rote work for interns. Is there a link? Did Ms. X create the link? Does the link go to classified information? It’s a slam dunk.

    — Best of all from a control standpoint, prosecuting links will have a chilling affect. Many people will simply be afraid to take the chance of legal trouble and stop creating links or following them. That will certainly be the case among the main stream media, already far too skittish about security matters. One wonders what effect such prosecuting of links will have on search engines like Google, essentially little more than a collection of links.

    Another step toward a post-Constitutionalization of America is the creeping criminalization of everything. If every act is potentially cause for prosecution, the ability of the government to control what people do or say grows.

    So while we still can, better hit these links: Wikileaks, Cryptome, some Snowden. Who could have guessed that in 2014 a click of the mouse would be a subversive act?



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  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...

      1

      “There may be other such link cases out there that we do not yet know of. They may be classified, or the parties involved may be under gag orders as was Brown.”

      I doubt it. The only people on earth who can’t link to Wikileaks on their own computers are State Department workers with a TOP SECRET clearance. Once again, the DS Flying Monkeys prove they are the missing link.

      03/7/14 3:19 PM | Comment Link

    • James said...

      2

      Great article but don’t see the point of convicting him with the “he’s no choirboy” schtick. Threatened should be qualified with the word allegedly, heroin addict should be qualified with the word formerly. Then this piece would be perfect 🙂

      03/7/14 3:25 PM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...

      3

      I’m on your side/Brown’s side. Since his critics always try and character assault him with these things, I include them as a way to disarm the critics. WHo Barrett is and what he does or does not do in his personal life is indeed irrelevant to the real issues.

      FYI: When I was struggling against the State Dept in my own whistleblower case, State spread untrue statements about me in a failed attempt to discredit my own revelations. SOP for these pigs.

      03/7/14 4:41 PM | Comment Link

    • Kyzl Orda said...

      4

      Remember the Steubenville Rape Case? There is another, Derek Lostutter, computer expert who was part of the process that revealed, much of it already publicly accessible, crime evidence the authorities failed to cull first time around, or maybe surprisingly overlooked is more neutral??

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/07/deric-lostutter-raid-kyanonymous-steubenville_n_3403000.html

      http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/anonymous-vs-steubenville-20131127

      Lostutter is facing MORE jail time, more than what the Steubenville rapists face.

      Most crazy of all, Ma’lik Richmond, who is one of the Steubenville rapists, was quietly released in January this year

      Salon has Richmond’s story:
      http://www.salon.com/2014/01/07/our_justice_systems_steubenville_failure_malik_richmonds_disheartening_non_apology/

      03/7/14 3:36 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      5

      “When Justice declined without reason to pursue the case…”

      They were laughing too hard to give one.

      03/7/14 3:57 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      6

      “The only people on earth who can’t link to Wikileaks on their own computers are State Department workers with a TOP SECRET clearance.”

      Didn’t Brown use his “own” computer to link? What stops the DOJ from prosecuting others who use their own computers to link?

      Notwithstanding Aaron Swartz, this whole Brown prosecution, is sickening. All these Attorney Generals are weasels, and the DOJ is making the Spanish Inquisition look like a party. But what really astounds me..is gag orders. Prosecution in secret. Russia’s got nothing up on America anymore.

      And speaking of “secret”, the EFF case against National Security Letters is still languishing in the 9th Circuit, and completely sealed. Which absolutely astounds me. HOW, in a democracy, can a court trial..be secret? Orwell must be shaking his head.

      http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/content/view.php?pk_id=0000000715

      I ain’t holding my breath, but I pray every single day these judges have one shred of humanity left in them. This whole NSL thing is a monumental affront to the constitution. And that’s the point. This is in appeal, as the previous District Judge ruled them UNCONSTITUTIONAL on their face. ALL OF THEM.

      https://www.eff.org/press/releases/national-security-letters-are-unconstitutional-federal-judge-rules

      Hence the governments appeal. If they loose this one though…all hell will break loose in the DOJ/NSA/FBI. Make my day.

      03/7/14 4:05 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      7

      “They were laughing too hard to give one.”

      On the contrary, they were scared of loosing and looking like complete buffoons. They didn’t have a case and knew it.

      03/7/14 4:24 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      8

      ps..Just like Drakes case. Complete buffoons.

      03/7/14 4:24 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      9

      03/7/14 4:30 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      10

      “State spread untrue statements about me in a failed attempt to discredit my own revelations.”

      PVB,

      As a service to those who still work at State and a warning to newbies considering a career with State, you should identify those Flying Monkeys who think they are immune from lawsuits of defamation of character. List their home addresses and photos so their neighbors know what scum lives next to them.

      03/7/14 4:52 PM | Comment Link

    • Kyzl Orda said...

      11

      Yeah, they do that at State. They don’t do it very well though. Then they site ‘privacy laws’ and back off — that signals a the weak point in their ‘case’ has been hit.

      The problem not having a watchdog that functions appropriately is — such officials don’t have to put effort into creating a reasonable-sounding claim. Meanwhile, dead wood is allowed to stay on and sleep at their desks. Or not-so-saavy-diplomatic staff can be caught saying “FU” to our EU allies. Let’s see if this smooth approach helps convince the EU to buy from American suppliers. This could mean more fracking at home and greater surveillance – a year or two of low prices to help EU forget all this to buy our gas supplies — and ultimately, kissy-kissy approaches with Russia and China in an embarassing volte-face

      03/7/14 5:13 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      12

      Hey Rich..thanks for the link to the Rice story. That was excellent. Even the author thinks she could be arrested as a war criminal should she venture out of the states. Frankly, I think they SHOULD let her speak…just so the entire audience could walk out on her. Oh, and about that speaking fee. What a monumental waste of money. To see war criminals like this cunt make more money in a half hour than I’ve ever made in TWO years of work..makes my blood boil. Shame on the university. They mock the very problem working class people have in trying to go to college…paying for it. So..let her speak, on the condition she “donates” the fee to a scholarship fund..and then walk out on her.

      03/8/14 9:35 AM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      13

      Wow. Unless you have the time to follow every single issue, day by day, things happen so fast as to allow information on the subject at hand to slip by. In that light, I decided to check out the current status of Browns prosecution. HOLY MOLY..

      Barrett Brown case: 11 of 12 counts dismissed!!

      On March 4, Browns defense submitted brief for dismissal of charges.
      On March 5th, the DOJ dropped 11 of 12 charges in the Second indictment.

      Gee, I wonder why?(insert rolling eyes smiley here)

      Could it be..the DOJ KNEW they would come out looking like total buffoons…just like with Drake, Peter, etc.

      Unfortunately, Brown still is being incarcerated while being charged with other offenses. But still, if I’m not mistaken, the charge for LINKING has been dismissed. whudda thunk. Still, these DOJ attorneys are shameless, stinking pigs.

      https://knightcenter.utexas.edu/blog/00-15268-us-government-drops-majority-criminal-charges-against-barrett-brown?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

      03/8/14 12:38 PM | Comment Link

    • meloveconsullongtime said...

      14

      On Wikileaks I’ve searched for some documents about the relationship between the US Consuls in Yekaterinburg Dale Eppler and Scott Rauland, with the Russian woman who has committed several US Federal felonies, Alla Onischenko Schlate…

      …but since the only available Wikileaks records about the US Consulate in Yekaterinburg Russia are from 2009-2010, I’ve not YET found any of the ones I was searching for…

      …HOWEVER, what Wilileaks does NOT yet have, are copies of emails in MY possession – written by Alla Onischenko Schlate – referring to several members of the US State Department, whom she asked to collude with her in several US Federal felonies. And some of the State Department officers whom she referred to, did not exist. She just made them up in her own lunatic mind.

      Yep, that’s today’s US State Department! One of their special Russian friends, Alla Onischenko Schlate, has gone on record – in sworn statements, under oath, to the State Department –
      to mention PERSONS WHO DO NOT EXIST!

      Alla Onischenko Schlate + Dale Eppler + Scott Rauland = Fraud, Perjury, International Child Kidnapping, and espionage.

      03/9/14 6:40 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      15

      Wow! melove, write a book. You’ve got the entire plot now. Sex, betrayal, kidnapping, espionage, lies and deceit, State Department coverups..man oh man…you’ll make a killing..DOH!! make that a shitload of money.

      03/9/14 8:57 PM | Comment Link

    • Kyle Lovett said...

      16

      Thank you for writing this. I’m sure you are aware of his case and recent suicide, but if you want to hear of some real horror done to a young guy who did absolutely nothing wrong, Aaron Schwarz is the name that really shows how ignorant and arrogent many prosecutors are when it comes to telling the difference between real criminals on-line and those practicing their right to free speech.

      Hell knows there enough real criminals that we can’t catch, but they sure do like going after the easy prey of people with an opinion online.

      03/10/14 3:27 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      17

      03/10/14 11:09 AM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      18

      “I’m sure you are aware of his case and recent suicide, but if you want to hear of some real horror done to a young guy who did absolutely nothing wrong, Aaron Schwarz is the name that really shows how ignorant and arrogent many prosecutors are”

      Yes Kyle, we are aware. Very aware. Apparently you are new here. Welcome.

      03/10/14 1:29 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      19

      Rich..thanks for the link. There is only one word to describe this…insanity. The good news is..they will eat them selves from the inside out. NSA’s Zelda is living proof…

      https://firstlook.org/theintercept/article/2014/03/07/nsa-advice-columnist-seriously/

      03/10/14 1:39 PM | Comment Link

    • Kyle Lovett said...

      20

      Yes new to reading and commenting on the site. Though I did get the privilege of meeting Mr Van Buren once last seeking some advice. A story I wish I could tell, but sadly can’t.

      Thanks!

      03/11/14 9:53 AM | Comment Link

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