Barrett Brown, who served as a spokesman for the Anonymous underground group of hackers, received a sentence for five years and three months of imprisonment for a case that has raised concerns on the rights to free speech of Internet activists and journalists.
The 33-year-old Brown pleaded guilty last April to issuing threats against an agent of the FBI, trying to hide a pair of laptops while authorities were executing a search warrant and offering assistance to another hacker.
The charges also involved a hack attack carried out against Stratfor, or Strategic Forecasting Inc., back in December 2011 that revealed previously secret information regarding defense contractors.
"Mr. Brown collaborated with and supported the hackers," said United States District Judge Sam Lindsay in a Dallas court. "He is more involved than he wants me to believe."
Brown acted as the informal spokesman for the Anonymous group right after the hacking group attacked four companies that were blocking contributions sent in to the controversial WikiLeaks website. The hack against Stratfor led to damages to the company's systems worth between $400,000 and $1 million.
According to prosecutors in a statement released after the hearing of the case, Brown was ordered to pay restitution of $890,250.
During the hearing, Brown was downplaying his role with Anonymous, claiming that he only posted a link. However, prosecutors said that the link led to uploaded files which allowed access to a massive database of credit card numbers that were stolen by the hackers.
Marlo Cadeddu, the attorney of Brown, found it problematic that the court ruled his client was trafficking stolen credit card information when Brown posted information already available to the public on a website that is also accessible by the public.
Cadeddu sought leniency because Brown was only addressing political problems, specifically the revelation of improprieties in the private intelligence contracting industry.
This interpretation of the court will have an effect on researchers and journalists that link to certain materials, because as such, they would have to be very careful on where the links that they post lead to.
As part of the guilty plea that Brown made last year, he admitted helping a person known as "o" after the person broke into the computers of Stratfor. Court papers said that "o" defaced the website of the company and extracted and then erased files from Stratfor's network. Brown admitted that he communicated with the company in place of "o" to protect the hacker's true identity.
At a hearing held in Dec. 16 of last year, Robert Smith, an agent for the FBI, testified that the person known as "o" was 30-year-old Jeremy Hammond, who was imprisoned for 10 years in 2013 for hacking Strafor and other law enforcement agencies.
Smith also testified that Brown's link to stolen credit card information led to 113 victims that lost a total of $18,000.