The U.S. government has filed a motion to drop most of its charges against Barrett Brown, the activist/journalist who faced up to 100 years in jail for posting a link to a trove of leaked documents. But he's not off the hook yet; he still faces a maximum 70-year sentence and remains imprisoned.
The U.S. motion would dismiss 11 of the 17 charges the government levied against Brown, all related to an Anonymous hacking of intelligence agency Stratfor in 2011. The former The Guardian writer became a test for First Amendment rights in the modern Internet era after he reposted a link to Stratfor's leaked files in a chat room. His supporters, including the Free Barrett Brown group, worried that his prosecution for simply sharing a link would stifle sharing information. "He neither hosted the file nor was involved in the theft of the information," said Free Barrett Brown founder Kevin Gallagher, who called the case the "criminalization of linking" and defended the "Right to Link."
Brown's attorneys filed a brief asking for those charges to be dropped yesterday on First Amendment grounds. "Republishing a hyperlink does not itself move, convey, select, place, or otherwise transfer a file or document from one location to another," the lawyers wrote. Retweets ≠ endorsements, essentially, in legal form. The U.S. did not specify a reason for dropping the charges.
While this appears to be a win against the "criminalization of linking," this is only a minor help for Brown. He still faces charges related to his response to an FBI raid on his home in 2012, after which he allegedly threatened the FBI in a YouTube video and withheld evidence.