Thursday February 19, 2015

Security journalist fears Barrett Brown case will prompt crackdown

According to Barrett Brown defenders, his only real crime was linking to a controversial document. We hear from other journalists about the chill effect Brown's jail sentence could have.

According to Barrett Brown defenders, his only real crime was linking to a controversial document. We hear from other journalists about the chill effect Brown's jail sentence could have. (Nikki Loehr)

Listen 24:58

'No foreign nation, no hacker should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets or invade the privacy of American families. Especially our kids.'- U.S. President Barack Obama

Last month, not long after the Sony hacks, U.S. President Barack Obama took a few moments during his State of The Union address to underscore the dangers posed by hackers.

But just three days later, the debate over how far to go in addressing the dangers landed squarely on this man ...

Barrett Brown is an American journalist and activist who's been associated with the so-called "hacktivist" group Anonymous in the past. He was arrested in September of 2012, on charges of aggravated identity theft and trafficking in stolen data. But he doesn't necessarily fit the regular profile for those sorts of crimes.

And in fact, Barrett Brown has never actually been accused of taking part in any kind of theft.  Instead, he posted a web link... inside a internet chat room. The link led to a cache of hacked information, including credit card numbers. And that led to the charges... unfairly in the eyes of his supporters.

After some protracted proceedings, Barrett Brown finally pleaded guilty last month to some lesser charges -- aiding and abetting and obstruction of justice, along with a charge related to threats he made against an FBI agent in a YouTube video he posted online.

He was sentenced to 63 months in prison, just over 5 years.

Quinn Norton is a journalist who has covered internet security issues and hacking. And the Barrett Brown case has her so worried that she has decided to take a step back from that work because she's concerned she might end up getting charged too. She still writes a column for Medium.com.

Mathew Ingram is a technology and media journalist, currently a senior writer at Gigaom. He says the Barrett Brown case is an unfortunate bi-product of the US's vague Cyber Hacking Laws.


This segment was produced by The Current's Gord Westmacott and Sonya Buyting.