Last week, whistleblower Chelsea Manning was able to start tweeting from prison, while at nearly the same time reporter Barrett Brown lost his email access for an entire year for daring to email a journalist about bad prison conditions. If you don’t recall, Barrett Brown is the reporter who was recently sentenced to more than five years in jail for reporting on the hacking actions of Anonymous. Bizarrely, the length of the sentence hinged on Brown’s sharing a link in a chat room, even though the Justice Department dropped that particular charge. We also found it ridiculous that during the course of his trial, Brown was ordered by the court not to talk to journalists.
It appears that, once again, that was a part of the problem here. The judicial and correctional systems apparently really don’t like it when you talk to journalists:
An hour or so after having used the system to contact a journalist about potential BOP [Bureau of Prisons] wrongdoing, Barrett Brown’s access to the TRULINCS prisoner e-mail system was restricted, for a full year until April 2016, without explanation.
This is contrary to the BOP’s own policy on several points, as noted in their 2009 documentation — the administration is only allowed to remove access to TRULINCS for thirty days pending an investigation of any potential misuse, and the inmate is supposed to be informed in writing of the reason for that.
But despite all of that, prison officials don’t seem to care. They made it clear they just wanted to shut up Brown:
Barrett spoke to a supervisor this morning who told him that he lost his e-mail access because he was “using it for the wrong thing”. This refers to his contacts with the press. A review of his e-mail activity had been made, Barrett was also told by this person that he “wasn’t supposed to have” e-mail, when there’s been no such order or determination that we’re aware of.
Apparently, Brown had been talking to Glenn Greenwald about writing some articles for The Intercept, and that’s what set off the Bureau of Prisons into a full-fledged lockdown on Brown’s email account. Brown himself was later able to provide more details, suggesting a completely arbitrary process by a prison official:
Failing to find Mr. Coleman, I met that afternoon with Unit Manger Ivory, who checked my files but could find no reason why my access should have suddenly been suspended and also advised me to meet with Mr. Coleman. At some point that day, my attempts to log in started to prompt a different message stating: “This account is on suspension until 4/1/2016 11:59:59 pm (from portal 16)”. At the next lunch period on Thursday, April 2nd, I was unable to locate Mr. Coleman, but laid out my problem to the associate warden who told me to return in five minutes, when Mr. Coleman would be present.
I did so, and when I asked another group of prison officials if they knew where I could find Mr. Coleman, another individual came up to me and said that he was the person I was looking for. He pulled me aside and told me that he was the one who had cut off my email, as I wasn’t supposed to have access to it in the first place due to my charges. I noted that I had three charges and asked which one precluded me from using the email service. He told me to list my charges and I did so. He then added that he had done a review of my email correspondence and found that I had “been using it for the wrong thing.” I replied that I had simply been using it to communicate with the press. He confirmed that “that was the wrong thing.” I asked him his name, which he gave as “Moore”.
Yes, when you go to prison, you have given up a lot of your rights and freedoms. But this seems like a purely arbitrary decision to punish Brown for criticizing the prison system. And, it appears to be backfiring, only driving that much more attention to the issue.