A US judge just sentenced journalist Barrett Brown to 63 months in prison and ordered him to pay nearly $US890,000 in restitution for charges related to the 2011 hack of Stratfor Global Intelligence. Brown's supporters maintain that the young writer and activist was "merely linking to hacked material". For that, he'll spend about five years behind bars. That sucks.
You probably know Brown as the unofficial spokesperson of Anonymous, a title he's shrugged off again and again. You probably don't know Brown as a hacker. After all, he's not the one who actually hacked into Stratfor. A little over a year ago, another federal judge sentenced Anonymous member Jeremy Hammond to 10 years in prison for that offence. Hammond is the one who's said that Brown simply linked to the hacked data in a December column for The Guardian.
Nevertheless, in October 2012, Brown was hit with charges related to threatening a federal officer on video as well as a dozen charges related to the Stratfor hack. And now, despite a massive campaign to free the 33-year-old and Brown's having already served 31 months in prison, a judge set a dangerous precedent by slapping Brown with an aggressive sentence and a massive fine. Actually, Brown only has to pay $US225 in actual fines. The remaining $US890,250 will go directly to Stratfor and its clients as, ummm, pay back.
Want to hear something even more insane? Originally, Brown faced 105 years in prison for "linking to hacked material" and his various other offences. Now, nobody is really saying that Brown didn't do anything wrong. But the government's increasingly aggressive posture against hackers — or rather, anybody that it decides is a hacker — is pretty scary.
The United States government's definition of hacking is pretty broad, and the punishments are pretty severe, as the world learned after Aaron Swartz's suicide. Just recently, however, President Obama put forth a set of cybersecurity proposals that would actually broaden the government's definition of hacking and increase the penalties, which would make matters worse.
This sucks because it's more clear than ever that the government is fine interpreting hacking laws that were written in the 1980s however it wants. If this continues, it's possible that the average citizen could get thrown in jail by simply clicking or retweeting a link to hacked material. Does this sound like a country you want to use a computer in? Think about that pretty hard as Congress considers Obama's new cybersecurity proposals. Barrett Brown surely will, as he's sitting in prison for the next few years. [The Guardian]