Don't you have a right to link to a hack without going to jail?

Barrett Brown's defense says you have a right to link; it's protected speech.

After a big hack, have you ever shared a link to where the leaked data was published? Sharing a link does not imply that you personally pulled off the hack, or read every tiny detail on the shared page, or even downloaded the leaked files. But hey, don't let the truth stand in the way of censorship and First Amendment rights. If the government has its way, then you could be a criminal for merely sharing a hyperlink to a hack. Of course, the government doesn't call it censorship, but if sharing a link becomes a crime, then freedom on the Internet will forever change. If a person could go to jail for sharing a link to a hack, then people will fearfully censor themselves and dissent will be stifled.

If the government has its way, and you have shared a link to a big hack, then you could be sent to prison for decades - face more jail time than the hackers themselves. That's precisely what happened to Barrett Brown. You may know him as a former spokesperson for Anonymous. You may know him from Project PM. He didn't hack Stratfor Global Intelligence in 2011 and he wasn't the one who published the pilfered Stratfor data. Instead, while on the ProjectPM IRC channel, Brown allegedly shared a link to the Stratfor hack. That link went to "an archive containing part of Stratfor's customer database, which happened to contain some credit card numbers," along with other leaked info that was widely shared in media reports.

Sharing a link to zipped data stolen and leaked is not the same thing as downloading it, unzipping it, reading every detail, and then using the credit cards for fraud. That's something you'd think the government would have to prove first, right? Eenk! As far a "proof" goes, it was enough to just share the hyperlink.

Brown's defense team filed a new motion and moved to protect the right to link [pdf]. "Republishing a hyperlink does not itself move, convey, select, place or otherwise transfer, a file or document from one location to another. The information not the information content itself, but rather a short text string-a URL-that identifies and locates content on the internet." The government has admitted that it can't "show a connection between Mr. Brown's republication of the hyperlink and a single transfer of authentication features, transfer of CVVs and/or illicit credit card transactions." The motion adds that sharing a link should be protected speech.

Desperate to stop the flood of classified leaks, the leak police have gone crazy. At one point, Wired's Danger Room came under fire for leaking an imaginary weapon. Before that, the Justice Department seemed so rabid to prosecute WikiLeaks' Julian Assange that the DOJ wanted to charge him with spying under the Espionage Act of 1917. But legal experts warned that the Espionage Act could make "felons" of everyone who read, commented upon, tweeted, or otherwise discussed Cablegate 'classified' memos. That allegedly included people who spread links about the memos by merely "liking" it on Facebook or sharing a link in email. Is that justice or more like crazy censorship?

Yet that came from the DOJ, the same agency that recommended a law firm to Bank of America; BoA hired the firm, which then used three intelligence agencies to attack WikiLeaks and plan a digital character assassination for people supporting them.

This is also the same department that proposed using an anti-hacking law for "crimes" that were not even hacking. The Justice Department said that you might be a felon if you ever fibbed online, used a pseudonym, violated some Terms of Service that you never bother to read before accepting, or even clicked a link or opened an email. How could that make you a felon? The Justice Department believed all of that fell under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

The legal attack on Brown is just more of the same war on leaks and dissent. Today's "right to link" press release states, "We hope that the Court recognizes the constitutional issues at stake and their importance to basic press freedoms and grants a swift and just dismissal. The precedent that is established here will affect all internet users and their rights to link."

(Spoiler alert - skip this paragraph and video below if you haven't seen House of Cards Season 2.) Free Barrett Brown, or at least help him out, was an idea that even made it into Netflix's House of Cards via Gavin Orsay, a fictional "hacker activist forced to work for the FBI." For the hacking portion, the show consulted with Gregg Housh, who noted that "Brown is facing 105 years for sharing a link to a hack someone else did."

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