Two somewhat unrelated news items caught my eye this week and suggested there is a long way to go before we understand what the new technologies of information mean for our world, and, more importantly, how to leverage their benefits. News of the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia will dominate news now from that country, perhaps deflecting the rather more terrifying coverage of Raid Badawi’s treatment at the hands of authorities. In case you missed it, he’s been sentenced to 1000 lashes, 10 years of imprisonment and fined close to $250,000 for blogging. Yes, you read that right – for blogging. Not hate crimes, not some imagined insult to a god, not murder, just blogging. And if you read his blog, you will note that the writings are generally smart, insightful and aimed at encouraging intelligent discussion. Oh, and don’t forget, Saudi Arabia is one of our allies.
Now, looking at that link above, think about this. A federal judge in Dallas yesterday sentenced journalist Barrett Brown to jail for another five years (he’s served more than one already) for providing a link to hacked material. You can add almost a $1m fine to that too. But at least he did not get any lashes, right?
Journalists rightly point to the chilling effect Brown’s sentence has on investigative reporting, arguing that if one accidentally linked to hacked data, such as some of those leaked customer files so many companies seem to have a hard time securing, you would likely be similarly prosecuted. Showing distinctly more sangfroid at the news than I would in his shoes, Brown stated :
“Good news! — The U.S. government decided today that because I did such a good job investigating the cyber-industrial complex, they’re now going to send me to investigate the prison-industrial complex. For the next 35 months, I’ll be provided with free food, clothes, and housing as I seek to expose wrongdoing by Bureau of Prisons officials and staff and otherwise report on news and culture in the world’s greatest prison system. I want to thank the Department of Justice for having put so much time and energy into advocating on my behalf; rather than holding a grudge against me for the two years of work I put into in bringing attention to a DOJ-linked campaign to harass and discredit journalists like Glenn Greenwald, the agency instead labored tirelessly to ensure that I received this very prestigious assignment. — Wish me luck!”
He won’t be the only one who needs it!