In a win for press freedom, the US government moved to dismiss 11 of the 12 charges in their criminal indictment against journalist Barrett Brown today. The charges against Brown had been widely criticized for potentially criminalizing routine journalistic behavior and could have had far reaching effects on the rights of all Internet users to share hyperlinks. A group of press freedom organizations, led by EFF and including Freedom of the Press Foundation, alerted the Justice Department yesterday of their intent to file an amicus brief in support of Barrett Brown's First Amendment rights next week.
Brown was accused of merely sharing a link in a chatroom of thousands of pages of internal documents from the intelligence firm Stratfor that contained credit card numbers. The documents had been originally been posted by someone else, and the Justice Department has never even alleged Brown had anything to do with the actual theft of the credit card numbers or any of the other information posted online.
While we are relieved the Justice Department has decided to drop the charges, we wonder why it took so long. It was clear from the start that these charges directly implicated the First Amendment and had consequences far beyond his case. As EFF stated today, "Although this motion is good news for Brown, the unnecessary and unwarranted prosecution has already done much damage; not only has it harmed Brown, the prosecutionâand the threat of prosecution it raised for all journalistsâhas chilled speech on the Internet." We certainly hope the Justice Department has learned a lesson in bringing this case and that the rights of journalists or anyone to share links online is not threatened again in the future.