A freelance journalist and Internet activist who was considered by some to be the “unofficial spokesperson” of a prominent online hacking group has been sentenced by a federal judge to 63 months in prison and ordered to pay nearly $900,000 in restitution and fines.
Barrett Lancaster Brown, 33, appeared in a Dallas courtroom on Thursday for sentencing in connection to a cyber attack against a Texas-based government think tank and obstruction of justice.
Brown was arrested in late 2012 after he threatened a federal law enforcement officer in a video posted to the website YouTube. The threat emerged months after federal investigators executed a search warrant on his apartment for information on activities by the online hacking groups Anonymous and Lulz Security.
The journalist, who some in the media had painted as the “unofficial spokeperson” for Anonymous due to his copious speaking engagements with journalists on the group, was indicted two months after his arrest for activity related to the compromise of Stratfor, an Austin-based publisher and security research firm. Specifically, Brown was accused of sharing a link to a trove of stolen e-mails and credit card details that were obtained by hackers from Stratfor.
Under the original indictment, Brown faced a possible 100 years in prison.
The case has been closely watched by civil liberties groups concerned that the case could set a precedent impacting news organizations that report on illicitly-gained information. Earlier this year, Brown’s attorneys filed a motion arguing their client could not have committed a crime by linking to information that was stolen and published by others.
One day later, federal prosecutors dismissed several charges against Brown. A superseding indictment accused Brown of being an accessory in connection with the Stratfor hack and of obstructing justice. The new indictment narrowed Brown’s possible prison sentence from 100 years to eight.
Prosecutors reached a plea deal with Brown in April. Supporters began a letter-writing campaign in October seeking a sentence of time-served for Brown, who has been in custody more than two years. At a hearing in December, a judge acknowledged receiving more than 100 letters requesting leniency.
Brown’s sentencing has been delayed twice; he was originally scheduled to be sentenced in November.
On Thursday, Brown read from a prepared statement in which he both expressed regret for some of his actions while criticizing federal law enforcement officials for their “reckless conduct.” Specifically, he singled out the government’s assertion that Brown was not a journalist, but rather a spokesperson for Anonymous, something that Brown said he disputed on multiple occasions.
“You are whatever the FBI finds it convenient for you to be at any given moment,” Brown said. “This is not the rule of law, your honor, it is the rule of law enforcement, and it is very dangerous.”
Shortly after noon, the judge presiding over the case ordered Brown to spend 63 months in federal prison minus two years already served. In addition, Brown was ordered to pay $890,000 in restitution, $200 in fines and will be supervised upon release from custody for two years.