The federal government's case against Barrett Brown creates a very real chilling effect for other journalists who, like Brown, produce work that deals with hacking and hacktivists.
Security reporter Quinn Norton says there's good reason for fear.
As regular readers of this blog know, Quinn is the former partner of the late Aaron Swartz, who, like Brown, was hounded by the FBI and overeager federal prosecutors. It killed him.
Quinn today writes:
Part of Barret Brown's 63 month sentence, issued yesterday, is a 12 month sentence for a count of Accessory After the Fact, of the crime of hacking Stratfor. This sentenced was enhanced by Brown's posting a link in chat and possessing credit card data. This, and a broad pattern of misunderstanding and criminalizing normal behavior online, has lead me to feel that the situation for journalists and security researchers is murky and dangerous.
I am stepping back from reporting on hacking/databreach stories, and restricting my assistance to other journalists to advice. (But please, journalists, absolutely feel free to ask me for advice!) I can't look at the specific data another journalist has, and I can't pass it along to a security expert, without feeling like there's risk to the journalists I work with, the security experts, and myself.
I know some of my activist hacker contacts will find this cowardly of me. Many of them risk much more than this in the course of their lives, but I have two replies to this. One is that I have a family to care for including a child, and I can't ask them to enter this murky legal territory. The other is that my causes are often not the same as the causes I write about, and I feel I best serve my causes by stepping back and highlighting this problem of of law to the public.