Petition protests Megaupload data seizure; decision deferred


An entrance to Megaupload's office at a hotel in Hong Kong is seen in this Hong Kong government handout photo released late January 20, 2012. (HANDOUT/REUTERS)
June 29, 2012

More than 35,000 people have signed a petition protesting the U.S. government’s seizure of data from the file-sharing site Megaupload. Advocacy group Demand Progress organized the petition, which argues that innocent users of the site have suffered because of a few bad actors.

The petition was created to challenge a filing from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) that users be given access to files they had on the site as long as there is a system in place to make sure files that violate copyright infringement aren’t given back, the blog Torrent Freak reported.

Those who signed the petition ask that “the court to uphold the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and to order the parties to facilitate return of all files to users.”

In an Alexandria, Va. court today, U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady deferred a decision that would have clarified the matter after a hearing on one user’s request that the government set up a way for Megaupload users to regain access to their files.

Bloomberg reported that O’Grady concluded the hearing after an hour and a half, saying, “We’ll look at it a little further and issue an order shortly.”

In a court filing earlier this month, the Justice Department urged the court to deny the motion, saying that to do anything else would open a “new and practically unlimited cause of action” for anyone to essentially claim that a government search warrant damaged a commercial relationship between a company and its consumers.

Those who signed the petition, however, would like to see a broader process set up to give users access for any cloud service.

In a statement, Demand Progress’ executive director David Segal said that if the government can seize files from Megaupload because “someone on the service used it wrong, how do we know they won’t steal our files on Gmail, YouTube, or Dropbox? Internet users deserve assurance that things we store in the cloud aren’t up for grabs.”

Cloud providers have had to wrestle with the problem of what to do if the government asks for individual user data. For example, Dropbox has a provision in its terms of service that says it “cooperates with United States law enforcement when it receives valid legal process” and will unencrypt files before providing them to law enforcement.

A court in New Zealand ruled earlier this week that the search warrants used by New Zealand police when they raided the home of Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom were invalid, and that the FBI acted unlawfully when it took copies of data from Dotcom’s computer offshore.

The case made a splash earlier this year because it happened around the same time that Congress was debating two controversial anti-piracy bills.

Investigators claim that Megaupload has made more than $175 million in subscription fees and online ads from the illegally uploaded material. Critics have said that Megaupload should not be held accountable for pirated material uploaded to its site.

Lawyers for Megaupload told The Post in January that U.S. federal authorities did not have a right to indict the Hong Kong-based company, which hosted some data in Virginia and other locations around the world.

Related stories:

Megaupload warrants ruled illegal by New Zealand court

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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