Last week, Quinn Norton wrote a disturbing and thoughtful essay. Those of us who conduct research or investigate and report on breaches generally share her concerns, if not her decision to withdraw from security journalism. The Barrett Brown case, and the prosecution’s attempt to criminalize linking to publicly available data may lead others, too, to pull back from investigating or reporting. And on some level, I suspect that’s exactly what the DOJ wanted/wants to happen – we’ll get scared of prosecution and not investigate or report as we otherwise might.
Quinn writes, in part:
Part of Barrett Brown’s 63 month sentence, issued yesterday, is a 12 month sentence for a count of Accessory After the Fact, of the crime of hacking Stratfor. This sentence was enhanced by Brown’s posting a link in chat and possessing credit card data. This, and a broad pattern of misunderstanding and criminalizing normal behavior online, has lead me to feel that the situation for journalists and security researchers is murky and dangerous.
I am stepping back from reporting on hacking/databreach stories, and restricting my assistance to other journalists to advice. (But please, journalists, absolutely feel free to ask me for advice!) I can’t look at the specific data another journalist has, and I can’t pass it along to a security expert, without feeling like there’s risk to the journalists I work with, the security experts, and myself.
I know some of my activist hacker contacts will find this cowardly of me. Many of them risk much more than this in the course of their lives, but I have two replies to this. One is that I have a family to care for including a child, and I can’t ask them to enter this murky legal territory. The other is that my causes are often not the same as the causes I write about, and I feel I best serve my causes by stepping back and highlighting this problem of law to the public.
Read her whole essay on Medium.
This blog and blogger already had a policy of not linking to data dumps, a policy that flows from the notion of protecting personal information and not adding to people’s woes by pointing readers to exposed personal, and sometimes sensitive, information. If a post does link to hacked data, such as tables structure, etc., I suppose the government could try to prosecute me as an accessory after-the-fact. If they do, I hope all the great First Amendment attorneys I know will step in to help.
Until then, it will be business as usual here, but I am saddened to read Quinn’s decision, even though I do understand her concerns. We have lost a great security journalist.