Barrett Brown, a journalist who served as an unofficial spokesman for various Anonymous hacking operations, was released from prison Tuesday after serving more than four years behind bars for sharing stolen data and threatening an FBI agent.
Barrett, 35, originally attracted the attention of law enforcement officials in 2011 when he copied a hyperlink to data stolen in a hack of security think tank Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor, from one Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel to another. The hack reportedly yielded 200 gigabytes of data, including emails and credit card information from Stratfor clients, which include the US Army, US Air Force and Miami Police Department.
The case against Brown, whose previous journalism experience included writing for such media outlets as The Guardian, Vanity Fair and Huffington Post, was closely followed by journalists, civil-liberties activists and internet activists who worried the case could infringe on freedom of the press by criminalizing the act of linking on the internet.
While members of the hacking collective Anonymous tend to hide their faces and identities, Brown took a more public approach. As a spokesmanlike figure for the group, he recorded videos of himself talking and gave interviews to reporters.
He was sentenced in January 2015 to five years in prison after pleading guilty to federal charges of obstructing a search warrant, making internet threats and being an accessory to unauthorized access of a protected computer. He was arrested at his Dallas home in 2012 while he was in the middle of an online chat after posting tweets and videos threatening revenge against an FBI agent associated with the investigation.
Originally facing charges that carried more than 100 years in prison, Brown was sentenced under a plea agreement with prosecutors to 63 months in prison and ordered to pay nearly $900,000 in restitution and fines. The two and a half years he has spent in custody were credited toward his sentence.
Brown's released was welcomed in a tweet by Edward Snowden, the whistleblower and former NSA contractor living in exile in Russia since 2013 after releasing a trove of documents detailing the extent of the intelligence agency's operations.