Reporters Without Borders greets with relief federal prosecutors’ decision to drop nearly all criminal charges against Barrett Brown
, a contributor to The Guardian
and Vanity Fair
Most importantly from an information freedom perspective, prosecutors based in Dallas, Tex., dismissed accusations of aggravated identity theft.
Brown was indicted on 12 September 2012. The charges arose from his publication of a link to a site that had made public several thousand emails exchanged by staff members of Stratfor, a private intelligence firm. Before most charges were dropped, Brown faced a maximum term of 105 years in prison.
In his reporting, Brown had zeroed in on evidence of ties between government intelligence agencies and their private-sector counterparts. The government clearly saw this information as damaging. In addition, Brown had already made himself a target because of his work, dating back to 2011, in exposing "Team Themis
", a project designed to neutralize the hacking group Anonymous and journalists linked to the group.
Reporters Without Borders joined in an amicus brief in support of Brown. Other freedom of information advocacy organizations signing the brief were the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Committee to Protect Journalists and PEN American Center. The brief makes clear that the charges violated First Amendment guarantees of freedom of the press and free expression.
Despite the recent dismissals, Brown remains behind bars on other charges, which grow out of the circumstances of his arrest. “While we welcome the prosecutors’ decision,” said Camille Soulier, head of Reporters Without Borders’ Americas desk, “we note that Barrett Brown is still incarcerated on charges of obstruction of justice and of making threats to a federal law enforcement officer.”
The press-freedom organization demanded the immediate dismissal of the remaining charges. Brown, Soulier said, “is paying the price for an overly expansive and abusive interpretation of the concept of national security, one that violates freedom of information.”
Ranked 46th of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index
that Reporters Without Borders published in February, the United States
has dropped 13 places in the ranking since the previous year’s index.