Another Case Of Prosecutorial Bullying Against A 'Hacker' (Techdirt)
Friday January 25th, 2013
As the tragic death of Aaron Swartz resides fresh in our memories, there has been a renewed interest by the public in the way prosecutors use the threat of more jail time as a carrot (edit: should have said "stick"; thanks comments section!) to secure plea bargains. The way the system is set up allows for an arena in which justice is no longer the objective. Instead, an injustice can be used in some kind of strange "ends justify the means" game that would make Lady Justice weep openly. With the odds firmly stacked against anyone that falls in the crosshairs of a federal prosecutor, this is a horrifyingly unjust method for achieving justice, and it appears to be a method favored for use against so-called hackers and hacktivists.
Now, lest you think that the Swartz case was an isolated event, or in case you thought perhaps there would be some sort of ripple effect as a result of it, you should note that prosecutors in the Barrett Brown case appear to be pursuing similar tactics. For those of you not familiar with Brown, he is the self-proclaimed spokesperson for Anonymous recently arrested for allegedly threatening an FBI agent.
Brown was arrested and taken into custody in September after allegedly threatening an FBI agent. In December 2012, he was indicted by a federal grand jury for trafficking “stolen authentication features,” as well as "access device fraud" and “aggravated identity theft.”
On Wednesday, Brown was hit with one count of “concealment of evidence,” and one count of “corrupting concealing evidence.” And what did Brown do to "conceal evidence"? Apparently he "hid" his laptop with his mother's dishes. Apparently putting a laptop where the Feds don't obviously look is now "concealing evidence."
I won't sit here and compare Brown and Swartz in terms of character. Not because I know or don't know enough about either of them to do so, but rather because that would miss the point entirely. I'll leave it to others to erect the false justification of character assassination. Instead, I'd rather focus on how prosecutors appeared to think that the original charges, which could lead to 90 years of imprisonment for Brown, were apparently not enough and decided to lump this last charge on top of the others. Brown's former attorney, Jay Leiderman, appears to be similarly flabbergasted.
“I would not have seen a third indictment coming,” Leiderman told Ars. “You would think the 90 years of prison exposure that they had on him was enough. Are we at a point in society where we think that 90 years is no longer enough?” As Ledierman goes on to say, at some point we departed the realm of prosecuting hacktivists and instead entered the realm of persecuting them. If there are crimes committed, let Brown or whoever else stand trial. If the law is behind the times, or written in a way that is ridiculous (as in the Swartz case), we can change the law. There's nothing wrong with the argument that that's a responsibility that falls on the public via whom we elect to government. All that said, for hacktivist crimes, or even those that Brown is accused of, to result in 90 years of jail time -- and for that to not be good enough for prosecutors -- is an absolute joke. Lumping on yet another, more minor, charge to pressure the accused is a downright travesty.
Leiderman speculated that the new indictment was a legal pressure tactic against Brown.