Breach, Data Security

Feds move to dismiss 11 charges against Barrett Brown

Federal prosecutors have moved to dismiss a majority of the criminal charges against Barrett Brown related to sharing a link to a dump of credit card numbers connected to the breach of intelligence firm Stratfor.

On Wednesday, 11 of the 12 charges were dropped by the government, but according to court records no specific reason was given for the move. All of the charges are related to the link sharing.

Brown was not accused of taking part in the intrusion, but was implicated for posting the hyperlink to the data on his think tank's chat room, Project PM.

His defense argued that the indictment was “fatally flawed” because the link he shared was already in the public domain, meaning the government's case was a violation of his Constitutional right to free speech.

In a blog post discussing the case, Kevin Gallagher, founder of Brown's legal defense fund, said that the charges were flawed from the beginning.

“In response to a rigorous legal challenge mounted by his defense, the government has finally recognized it and signaled that this is a battle they don't want to fight,” Gallagher wrote. “Make no mistake, this is a massive victory for press freedom.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based digital rights group that was planning to file an amicus brief on Monday on behalf of reporters arguing for the dismissal of these charges, released a statement regarding the news.

“In prosecuting Brown, the government sought to criminalize a routine practice of journalism – linking to external sources – which is a textbook violation of free speech protected by the First Amendment,” the online statement said. “We hope that this dismissal of charges indicates a change in the Department of Justice priorities.”

Brown, one of the public faces of hacktivist collective Anonymous, is still in federal custody following his arrest in 2012 over threatening an FBI agent in a YouTube video. He still faces an indictment related to that incident, as well as a single charge of possession of stolen credit card numbers with intent to defraud.

[An earlier version of this story has been updated to indicate that Kevin Gallagher is not Brown's attorney.]

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