Barrett Brown, the independent journalist who covered the 2011 Stratfor hack by Anonymous, was sentenced to 63 months in prison Thursday.
The journalist was sentenced after pleading guilty to charges of “accessory to hacking,” “transmitting threats,” and “interfering with the execution of a search warrant” as part of a plea deal he made with prosecutors in April.
“This breaks down to uploading YouTube videos that contained unfortunate statements, efforts to redact sensitive e-mails that had been procured by hackers, and hiding laptops in a kitchen cabinet,” Brown’s legal team said about the charges prior to sentencing.
Brown closely followed Anonymous as it leaked internal e-mails from the global intelligence firm Stratfor, which has close ties to the CIA.
He drew the attention of law enforcement after he revealed an Internet Relay Chat channel where members of Anonymous were distributing e-mails and other documents from the hack.
The Department of Justice claimed that by sharing a hyperlink to the IRC channel, “Brown caused the data to be made available to other persons online, without the knowledge and authorization of Stratfor and the card holders.”
Critics, however, argued that sharing a link to an IRC channel was not identity theft and called the case “prosecutorial overreach.”
“Brown’s prosecution is yet another transgression against media freedom in the land of the First Amendment,” WikiLeaks said in a statement. “It chills investigative reporting of national security issues and provides cover for the unholy alliance between government agencies and the security industry.”
Brown said the “novel, and sometimes even radical” claims the government made during his sentencing threatens “every journalist in the United States.”
“The government asserts that I am not a journalist and thus unable to claim the First Amendment protections guaranteed to those engaged in information-gathering activities,” he said in a statement to the court. “Your Honor, I’ve been employed as a journalist for much of my adult life, I’ve written for dozens of magazines and newspapers, and I’m the author of two published and critically-acclaimed books of expository non-fiction.”
“If I am not a journalist, then there are many, many people out there who are also not journalists, without being aware of it, and who are thus as much at risk as I am.”