Barrett Brown, the once self-appointed spokesman to hacker collective Anonymous, was indicted last week by a federal grand jury on 12 charges related to the infamous Stratfor hack. Unlike activist Jeremy Hammond, who could face life in prison for his alleged role hacking the private intelligence firm, Brown’s charges specifically pertain to the sharing of information, a development that has perturbed journalists and bloggers who regularly report on hackers and hacked information.
Brown faces a host of charges, including a number relating to online threats made to an FBI agent unrelated to the Stratfor case. Within the newly announced grand jury indictment, however, Brown faces a charge for copying a link to a downloadable archive of compromised data — specifically credit card information — from one Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel and pasting it into another.
The indictment states:
Brown transferred the hyperlink ‘http://wikisend.com/download/597646/Stratfor_full_b.txt.gz’ from the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel called ‘#AnonOps’ to an IRC channel under Brown’s control called ‘#ProjectPM’… [B]y transferring and posting the hyperlink, Brown caused the data to be made available to other persons online without the knowledge and authorization of Stratfor Global Intelligence and the card holders.
The data linked to over 5,000 credit card account numbers, the card holders’ identification information and authentication codes, but Brown himself had not compiled or categorized this information.
Gawker’s Adrian Chen expressed personal concern about the implications of an individual facing criminal charges for sharing links. “As a journalist who covers hackers and has ‘transferred and posted’ many links to data stolen by hackers—in order to put them in stories about the hacks—this indictment is frightening because it seems to criminalize linking,” noted Chen. “Does this mean if a hacker posts a list of stolen passwords and usernames to Pastebin, the popular document-sharing site, and I link to them in a story or tweet I could be charged with ‘trafficking in stolen authentication features,’ as Brown has been? … Links to the credit card number list were widely shared on Twitter in the wake of the Stratfor hack—are all the people who tweeted links going to be rounded up and arrested, too?” he asked.
Brown was arrested at his Texas home in September over his online threats. He has been held in federal detention ever since.