The US government has moved to drop key charges against the activist-journalist Barrett Brown, including the most controversial count that he transferred stolen property by posting a hyperlink to a website containing hacked material.
Candina Heath, the assistant US attorney for the Northern District of Texas, lodged in a Dallas federal court on Wednesday a motion to dismiss 11 of the 17 counts against Brown. The counts all related to the hack of the website of private intelligence firm Stratfor in 2011 by the hacking collective Anonymous.
The US government’s decision to drop counts one and three to 12 in the indictment relating to the Stratfor hack came just a day after lawyers for Brown filed a legal memorandum calling for those counts to be dropped. Brown’s attorneys argued in the memo that the prosecution was a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech, saying that “republishing a hyperlink does not itself move, convey, select, place or otherwise transfer, a file or document from one location to another”.
“The activities prohibited include those of everyday members of the public desiring to conduct research on the Internet, cyber security researchers who wish to analyze and prevent cyber-attacks and journalists who wish to perform routine press activities such as newsgathering and verification of sources,” said defense attorney Ahmed Ghappour in the motion.
Federal prosecutors have given no further information about why they decided to drop the counts, and a request for comment was not immediately returned.
The activist, who wrote for the Guardian and other publications before his arrest in September 2012, remains accused of count two in this indictment – that he committed access device fraud relating to the credit card details released in the Anonymous hack. He also faces two separate indictments, one for obstruction of justice by allegedly attempting to hide laptops, and the other for allegedly making threats in a YouTube video against an FBI officer and disclosing information about an FBI agent and his family. (See also: U.S. Prosecutors: Barrett Brown & Anonymous “Secretly Plotted Overthrow of Government” … lol)
In total, Brown still faces a possible maximum prison sentence of 70 years, though an additional 35 years have been removed through the dismissed counts.
My money’s on the House of Cards hacker character’s Barrett Brown references that actually resulted in his charges being dropped.
— Adi Kamdar (@adikamdar) March 5, 2014
— Free Barrett Brown (@FreeBarrett_) March 5, 2014
so like, the gov just dropped 11 counts in two indictments in Barrett’s case. What does that tell u about thr prosecutorial decision making?
— Tor Ekeland, P.C. (@TorEkelandPC) March 5, 2014
PHEW we can link again without phear from the US gov. Gov drops bogus link charges against @FreeBarrett_ FTW
— Gabriella Coleman (@BiellaColeman) March 5, 2014
— EFF (@EFF) March 5, 2014
DOJ knew a big group of press freedom orgs were about to file a brief for Barrett Brown. Wonder if that’s why they dismissed the charges.
— Trevor Timm (@trevortimm) March 5, 2014