NZ Court Rules Warrant Against MegaUpload Invalid, Evidence Removal Illegal

The FBI and major multinational corporations were dealt with a heavy blow in the MegaUpload case. A New Zealand court has ruled that the warrants used for the raids against the file-sharing website were invalid because they were too vague. The judge also ruled that the evidence the FBI took and brought back to the US for analysis was illegal.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

The tide may be turning for file-sharing website MegaUpload. In January, authorities shut down and raided the famous one-click hosting website, taking down with it several of my own music production links in the process. The battle a handful of major multinational corporations and MegaUpload has been a long one up to this point, but after some back and forth, the case is being heard in both a New Zealand court and a US court.

Earlier this month, MegaUpload demanded to obtain evidence seized by US authorities so it could build its own defense, but US authorities refused saying that the amount of content was too large. A judge subsequently gave US authorities a deadline to comply, but the US called the court order “Unrealistic”.

Now, a New Zealand court ruling may have thrown a major wrench into the FBI’s case. The BBC is reporting that the warrants used against the website were ruled invalid:

“The warrants did not adequately describe the offences to which they related,” High Court judge Justice Helen Winkelmann said.

Mr Dotcom was arrested, along with four others, in January.

Millions of dollars in assets were seized or frozen including almost 20 luxury vehicles, dozens of computers and art works.

However, Justice Winkelmann said the warrant for the search fell “well short” of outlining Mr Dotcom’s alleged offences.

“They were general warrants, and as such, are invalid,” she said.

In response to the judge’s decision, New Zealand police said they were in discussions with Crown Law “to determine what further action might be required”.

Reuters also reported that the evidence being moved off shore was also an illegal activity on the part of the FBI:

On Thursday, High Court Judge Justice Helen Winkelmann found the warrants used in the seizure of property from Dotcom’s mansion near Auckland were illegal and that moves by the FBI to copy data from Dotcom’s computer and take it offshore were also unlawful.

Criticisms and suspicions have been raised about the FBI’s case for some time now. the Washington Post notes:

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said that the case against Dotcom was “hokey” and that he believes the U.S. argument is based on “thin ground.”

“It’s just kind of ridiculous what they did to his life,” Wozniak said. “An awful lot of Kiwis support him. The U.S. government is on thin ground.”

He compared shutting down the Megaupload site on piracy grounds to shutting down a highway to stop speeding.

Uproxx comments that this ruling could effectively make the entire case the FBI has built against the site collapse completely:

Roughly translated, this means the United States can’t use anything it found on those hard drives, if it did happen to find anything, because it’s illegally confiscated. This is a wee bit of a problem because their entire case is likely built on what they found in those drives.

In short, the entire case has collapsed. The US government walks away with a black eye, the labels walk away with an object lesson that you can’t game the system, and hopefully MegaUpload users get their data back.

I tend to agree with Uproxx here. Unless the FBI has gathered evidence outside of what was gathered on the hard drives and what was in DotComs residence, I don’t see how the FBI’s case can proceed. I suspect that the crown will appeal the ruling to try and salvage the situation for US authorities, but, for the moment, the case against MegaUpload looks like it could be on life support at this point.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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