Federal prosecutors in Texas have moved to drop 11 of 12 fraud charges against Barrett Brown, an Internet activist and occasional columnist.
Brown was originally charged with several crimes after posting a hyperlink to materials obtained from a hacked computer in a public Internet chat room. Brown linked to a website that included 860,000 email addresses and the credit card information of more than 60,000 people.
However, as laid out in a legal memorandum, Brown’s attorneys believed the hyperlink charges were too vague, were in violation of his First Amendment right to free speech, and would have a chilling effect on Internet activity.
“Republishing a hyperlink does not itself move, convey, select, place or otherwise transfer, a file or document from one location to another.” Brown’s attorney had argued in a motion to dismiss the charges filed last week, before the government took that action on its own today. “The government only alleges that Mr. Brown transferred a hyperlink containing directions to where the Stratfor [Strategic Forecasting, Inc.] file was already placed by another person.”
Brown’s case had become of great interest to the news media, First Amendment lawyers, and others who feared a conviction could essentially criminalize the use of hyperlinks when sensitive information is involved, as well as chill linking online altogether.
Brown has been in federal custody since 2012, and still faces five additional charges in two other federal cases.