A federal court in Texas has effectively denied an imprisoned reporter and his attorneys’ right to freedom of speech with a so-called gag order — preventing him from discussing US surveillance efforts. The order is only the latest action that the Justice Department has taken against reporter Barrett Brown.
Brown has been in jail since last year on charges of threatening a federal agent and disseminating stolen information. His major crime, according to prosecutors, seems to have been posting a hyperlink to a cache of emails leaked to the media by the hacker group Anonymous in a chat room. The information he was accused of stealing was already freely circulating on the web.
Federal prosecutors are trying to “criminalize the routine journalistic practice of linking to documents publicly available on the internet, which would seem to be protected by the First Amendment to the US constitution under current doctrine, Geoffrey King of the Committee to Protect Journalists told The Guardian.
King is accusing the government of trying to stop reporters from posting links to documents or other information that might make the government or politicians look bad.
Prevented from speaking to the press
The gag order prevents Brown and his attorneys from making a statement about their case to any television, radio, newspaper, magazine, Internet or other media organization. In other words, the federal government has effectively deprived the reporter and his lawyers of their freedom of speech.
Federal prosecutors tried to argue that they were protecting Brown’s right to a fair trial by asking for the gag order. It really sounds as if they were trying to keep the journalist and his lawyers from speaking to the press; but why?
The reason might be Brown’s connections to The Guardian and reporter Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald is the reporter to whom Edward Snowden leaked the NSA documents. Greenwald has been in the government’s sights since he started exposing details about surveillance programs. Brown is employed by The Guardian, which has been the subject of pressure from both the American and British government. The government might think that by prosecuting him they can hurt the British newspaper or at least send it some sort of message.
“Before his arrest, Brown became known as a specialist writer on the US government’s use of private military contractors and cyber security firms to conduct online snooping on the public,” The Guardian reported. “He was regularly quoted by the media as an expert on Anonymous, the loose affiliation of hackers that caused headaches for the US government and several corporate giants, and was frequently referred to as the group’s spokesperson, though he says the connection was overblown.
The government might be afraid that Brown will expose even more details of its covert operations in cyber space. Before he was arrested Brown had created Project PM, a wiki or website the exposed the details of intelligence contractors by posting their emails online.
Brown’s case proves that the Obama Administration and its justice department no longer believe in freedom of the press, civil liberties groups say. Instead, they will go to any length to silence any journalist who criticizes the government.
“Perhaps because he wasn’t as high-profile as Bradley Manning or as unassailable as Aaron Swartz,” The Guardian wrote, “Brown hasn’t attracted the type of support that can effectively pressure the government. But with the light thrown on the privatised national security state by the leaks from former BAH contractor for the NSA Edward Snowden, there is renewed interest in Brown’s plight and the campaign for justice in his case.”