When links are outlawed, only outlaws will use links

Ex-Anonymous spokesmouth Barrett Brown's indictment for links to stolen credit card numbers could be bad news for the rest of us

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Then there are whistleblower sites like WikiLeaks and Cryptome that routinely post actual information obtained "without the knowledge and authorization" of their owners, not just links to it. Are they headed straight for the pokey too?

Someone asked Cryptome's John Young this question last week. His answer:

The purpose of Cryptome is to publish what officials don't want published. Cryptome welcomes publication by you and others of Barrett Brown's hyperlinks as well as links to Cryptome's files and thereby encourage others to join the opposition to official chilling of free speech online and elsewhere -- the very thing Stratfor did and does for profit.... Of course, why else flaunt democracy on the Internet than to heartburn the innards of authoritarians. Barrett Brown is a stellar burner of cold, cold hearts.

Last year when I wrote about the original hack attack, I described Stratfor as "the shadow spook organization that operates without government oversight at the behest of private corporations and occasionally Uncle Sam." That was overstating it a bit, as it turns out. Stratfor is really just a purveyor of $40-a-month newsletter that analyzes how news events affect global security.

It does, however, command the attention of a lot of powerful folks in DC. Among its more notable subscribers was apparently one Paula Broadwell, national security analyst and former snugglebunny to desposed CIA jefe General David Petraeus. Her email address was allegedly one of those snagged by Anonymous.

You gotta figure there were a lot of well-connected people on that list of credit card numbers made public by Anonymous, which would explain the government's keen interest in prosecuting the hackers over it. You don't see nearly as much attention being paid to the dozens of other attacks perpetrated by the Anons and their offshoots.

That fact, combined with Brown's public threats against one of the FBI's own, are what's behind this indictment as much as anything, I suspect. Somebody decided to make an example out of Brown, who is at best a bit player in this drama. To me, that's abuse of power.

Worse, though, is the impact this prosecution could have on anyone who values freedom of speech, as well as those of us who make our living at it. If hyperlinks are illegal, then we are all criminals. See you in prison.

Should it be a crime to link to stolen information? Guilty or not guilty? Post your verdict below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "When links are outlawed, only outlaws will use links," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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