Federal prosecutors in Texas dropped a raft of charges Wednesday against a well-known journalist-activist in a closely watched digital freedom case involving hyperlinks and the Anonymous hacking collective.
The move came after Barrett Brown’s lawyers filed a motion for the 11 charges — the bulk of which alleged aggravated identity theft — to be dismissed, citing free-speech provisions in the US Constitution.
Brown, in custody since his arrest in September 2012, still faces charges of obstructing justice and threatening law enforcement officers, but supporters hailed Wednesday’s development.
“Make no mistake, this is a massive victory for press freedom, for Barrett and everyone who’s supported him over the last year and a half,” said the Free Barrett Brown group on its Tumblr blog.
Brown, 32, faced prosecution after his Project PM website posted a hyperlink to an Internet chatroom that included credit card details obtained in 2011 by Anonymous members who had hacked into the computers of intelligence firm Stratfor.
Had Brown been convicted, it would have sent a message to journalists that any hyperlinks they might add to their online stories to back up their reporting might similarly expose them to prosecution, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
Brown, who wrote extensively about private intelligence contractors, still faces as much as 70 years behind bars if convicted on the remaining counts against him, supporters said.