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Summary:

File-sharing kingpin Kim Dotcom has so far had the upper hand in a legal fight over the FBI’s attempt to extradite him from New Zealand. That changed this week.

kim dotcom feature art

The United States has been fighting to extradite Kim Dotcom, the flamboyant mastermind behind file-sharing site Megaupload, ever since authorities raided his compound in New Zealand more than two years ago. Dotcom has come out on top of the court battles — until now.

This week, the New Zealand Court of Appeals ruled that search warrants used to seize evidence — including 135 hard drives, laptops and flash drives — from Dotcom’s mansion were valid, which will strengthen prosecutors’ hand in upcoming extradition hearings.

The decision overturns a lower court ruling last year that declared the warrants illegal because they were too broad and failed to specify a criminal act that justified the search. Dotcom had objected that law enforcement had grabbed nearly everything they could lay their hands on during a raid involving guns and helicopters.

The appeals court acknowledged that the scope of the search was broad, and noted that New Zealand doesn’t have a crime of “breach of copyright,” but said the warrant defects were technical and not enough to strike the warrants altogether.

The ruling, embedded below, also provides some colorful details about the high-profile case, including that authorities obtained 150 terabytes of data (amounting to millions of songs and movies) and jewelry belonging to Dotcom’s wife, which they later returned.

The appeals court decision did side with the lower judge on one part of her decision: that New Zealand prosecutors should not, for now, turn the evidence over to the FBI for removal to the United States. While this is a small victory for Kim Dotcom, it may be meaningless since the FBI has already cloned much of the electronic data to prepare for a criminal trial in Virginia.

While Dotcom’s lawyers say they will appeal the appeals court’s unanimous ruling to New Zealand’s Supreme Court, the legal focus is likely to turn to the extradition process, which has been on hold pending the evidence dispute. In the meantime, Dotcom, who has proved adept at procuring public sympathy despite turning in his friends, is promoting a new political party and a privacy startup.

Scholars of privacy and criminal law may want to take a closer look at the ruling, which repeatedly invokes a Canadian Supreme Court decision on searching computers in the home:

Her Majestys Attorney-General v Kim Dotcom v2