Monday, September 09, 2013

Barrett Brown cases raises possibility of prosecution for "merely" hyperlinking to classified or otherwise illegal materials

Generally, bloggers have come to feel safe with hyperlinks, certainly in the copyright area.  It is true that it is possible to get sued for hyperlinking to libelous content, but those incidents seem to be very rare in practice.

But a somewhat rogue journalist, Barrett Brown, faces federal prosecution in Texas and conceivably decades in prison over a hyperlink in his chatroom for “Project PM”, concerning Wikileaks materials.  One problem is that the material he linked to gives away personal information (credit card info), so the fibbies are adding identity theft to the prosecution, although Brown had no interest in the personal information released.  He was trying to expose unseemly links between federal intelligence agencies and defense contractors and certain lobbyists.   David Carr has the details in the New York Times Business Day Monday here. Trevor Timm and Hanni Fakhoury had written about this for Electronic Frontier Foundation in July, here. There is a site for Barrett Brown supporters here
There are other complications in Brown’s story, all of which could have made him a target for federal prosecutors.  But it is frightening that a federal prosecutor makes up a theory that a hyperlink, by “sharing information”, amounts to a kind of illegal possession.  Still, one can imagine scenarios involving “intentional” linking to child pornography without actually “possessing” it on one’s own hardware, or to sites that traffic underage women, or pushing illegal pharmaceuticals.   It’s obvious this is a very slippery slope legally, ripe with potential overbreadth.

The Times points out that journalists and newspapers link to classified information “all the time” and make their own judgments on what to publish.  I have linked to Wikileaks before (when it was up).  I still have am embed of Bradley Manning’s 40-minute leaked video (sorry, Chelsea Manning) in April 2010 on my “cf” blog with many page requests over the years.  No one has knocked on my door.  Am I breaking the law by linking to a YouTube video seen by millions (outside of my own blog) but surely illegal when uploaded?

Let me add, again.  I have received tips before that I thought were classified and that I thought should not be released, and I have contacted authorities on these.  But I use my own judgment.  In my business, that’s all I can do. 

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