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We do not forget Barrett Brown

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Wednesday 17 July 2013

A Letter from Free Barrett Brown: Dear friend of press freedom,

I’m writing to you with an urgent request: your support for the legal defense fund of Barrett Brown, an investigative journalist now facing life in prison as a result of his writing and research.

American journalism is under attack in 2013. In recent years we’ve seen an unprecedented wave of criminal investigations targeting reporters and whistleblowers, while prosecutors abuse vague laws regarding computer use to threaten activists with outrageous sentences. Today Barrett Brown faces the full weight of this crackdown. It’s up to us to ensure that Barrett sees justice and defeats the wildly excessive charges against him.

Barrett’s career as a journalist is a brave and colorful one. He has written for publications including Vanity Fair, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post; and he co-authored a popular book, Flock of Dodos. In 2010, the revelations brought to light by WikiLeaks spurred Barrett to start investigating the secretive world of private cybersecurity, defense and intelligence contractors. Barrett founded an independent think-tank, Project PM, and started reporting on the Anonymous hacktivist collective. When Anonymous hacked into the records of the private security firm HBGary Federal in early 2011, Barrett’s zeal for transparency in taxpayer-funded yet little-known defense projects led him to spend months researching this company’s corrupt activities. He did the same in 2012, after the leak of thousands of records from the private intelligence firm Stratfor.

Glenn Greenwald:

“Brown is a serious journalist who has spent the last several years doggedly investigating the shadowy and highly secretive underworld of private intelligence and defense contractors, who work hand-in-hand with the agencies of the Surveillance and National Security State in all sorts of ways that remain completely unknown to the public. It is virtually impossible to conclude that the obscenely excessive prosecution he now faces is unrelated to that journalism and his related activism.”

Despite his achievements, Barrett now waits in prison to fight a sentence of up to 105 years. The 17 charges against him are based on Barrett having blogged openly about FBI harassment of him and his family; on Barrett allegedly having hidden a laptop when a family member’s home was raided by the FBI in search of evidence against him; on his allegedly having “trafficked in stolen goods” — that is, Stratfor documents containing clients’ credit card data; and on his alleged “dissemination” of the Stratfor documents by simply copying and pasting a link to them in an online chat. There is no indication that Barrett sought to use the credit card numbers in any way; in fact, he publicly condemned Anonymous’ suggestion of doing so. As a journalist, Barrett felt responsible for exposing to the public the inner workings of firms contracting with the U.S. government — and for his efforts, he may receive a lifetime in prison.

Barrett’s prosecution highlights critical issues for American journalists, activists, and internet users:

  • The right to link. The charges against Barrett for sharing the Stratfor data represent an attempt to criminalize linking. What does this mean for the rights of internet users, let alone journalists who link to primary source material? Online linking is used by millions daily. What absurd legal theory makes an internet user responsible for the content and consequences of a shared link, resulting in criminal charges?
  • Information, press and speech freedom. Barrett’s work to uncover the activities of private security and intelligence companies made him a prime target for prosecution. If citizens are prevented from researching the growing surveillance state, what will become of privacy, transparency, and civil liberties in America? Already we see chilling effects on journalists working to shed light on corruption and abuse among government contractors.
  • Selective prosecution. Many others — including established reporters — shared the same link to Stratfor data named in Barrett’s indictment. Why is only Barrett being prosecuted? And why is the FBI worried enough about the speech of an unarmed writer to conduct heavily-armed raids on his home? Barrett’s case is a prime example of the DOJ’s current prosecutorial abuse of journalists, whistleblowers, and information activists.
  • Reporters’ privilege. The laptop that Barrett allegedly hid contained journalistic sources and work product, including a book in progress. The First Amendment protects reporters from revealing confidential information or sources. It isn’t hard to conclude that the charges based on Barrett’s alleged concealment amount to an effort to inhibit his reporting on America’s growing surveillance industry.

Fortunately, two of the most skilled and dedicated lawyers in the country have taken up the fight: Charles Swift and Ahmed Ghappour, best known for their advocacy on behalf of Guantánamo detainees, winning a victory over the Bush administration in a 2006 Supreme Court case. But even with expert representation, Barrett’s defense calls for resources that he doesn’t have. Your support is urgently needed to help Barrett regain his freedom and continue his vital work. And this is not Barrett’s fight alone — the outcome of this case will affect every American’s rights to free speech, to independent journalism, and to political activism. Not only does Barrett deserve a future — so do all of us, to preserve our right to know what our government does in secret, yet in our names.

Barrett’s trial begins in September.

His defense is being funded entirely through individual donors. With less than three months to go, will you help today?

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