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Glenn Greenwald: Meet the Journalist Rotting in Prison for Crossing the FBI

Prosecutorial abuse is becoming the preeminent weapon used by the US government to destroy online activism and journalism.

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Brown may not be as cuddly as Swartz, and certainly does not have the same roster of influential friends. Nor can it be categorically argued that Brown did nothing wrong (just as many of Swartz's most ardent defenders acknowledged about him): that YouTube video, made when he was admittedly struggling with impaired judgment, was certainly ill-advised.

But none of that should matter. The claim with prosecutorial abuse is never that the person targeted is a perfect being or even that he never did anything wrong. The issue with prosecutorial abuse is that the punishments being meted out are wildly disproportionate to the alleged acts when the trivial harms of the acts are considered and/or that the prosecution is being pursued for improper purposes. That's particularly true when viewed next to the far more egregious criminality the US government shields,

Both prongs of prosecutorial abuse are clearly present in Brown's case. There is no evidence that the link he posted to already published documents resulted in any unauthorized use of credit cards, and certainly never redounded in any way to his benefit. More important, this prosecution is driven by the same plainly improper purpose that drove the one directed at Aaron Swartz and so many others: the desire to exploit the power of criminal law to deter and severely punish anyone who meaningfully challenges the government's power to control the flow of information on the internet and conceal its vital actions. Brown's acts, like Swartz's, were political in nature, and the excessive prosecution is equally political.

What the US government counts on above all else is that the person it targets is unable to defend themselves against the government's unlimited resources. It takes an enormous amount of money to mount an effective defense. That's what often drives even the most innocent people to plead guilty and agree to long prison terms: they simply have no choice, because their reliance on committed and able but time-strapped public defenders makes conviction at trial highly likely, which - under an outrageous system that punishes people for exercising their right to a fair trial - means a much harsher punishment than if they plead guilty.

If the US government is going to attempt to imprison activists and journalists like this, it should at the very least be a fair fight. That means that Brown, who is now represented by a public defender, should have a vigorous defense able to devote the time and energy to his case that it deserves. He told me in the telephone interview we had that he believes this is the key to enabling him to avoid pleading guilty and agreeing to a prison term: something he has thus far refused to do in part because he insists he did nothing criminal, and in part because he refuses to become a government informant.

A legal defense fund has been created by several young, smart and committed internet freedom activists, two of whom I had the chance to meet and speak with in the Boston area several weeks ago. I really hope everyone who is able to do so will donate what they can to his defense fund. You can do that at  this link here, or via paypal to All donations will be used exclusively to hire private criminal defense counsel and to fund his defense.

The US government's serial prosecutorial excesses aimed at internet freedom activists, journalists, whistleblowers and the like are designed to crush meaningful efforts to challenge their power and conduct. It is, I believe, incumbent on everyone who believes in those values to do what they can to support those who are taking real risks in defense of those freedoms and in pursuit of real transparency. Barrett Brown is definitely such a person, and enabling him to resist these attacks is of vital importance.

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