WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A New Zealand judge has ruled that police warrants used to seize computer hard drives from Kim Dotcom's mansion weren't legally valid.
Police executed the search and seizure warrants during a January raid on Dotcom's home near Auckland.
Dotcom is the flamboyant founder of Hong Kong-based file-sharing site Megaupload. He is accused by federal authorities of racketeering and money laundering, and facilitating Internet piracy on a massive scale. He's fighting U.S. attempts to extradite him from New Zealand.
Justice Helen Winklemann ruled Thursday the warrants were overly broad and that New Zealand authorities also acted unlawfully by handing digital copies to the FBI.
Winkelmann has not yet decided upon any remedies. What impact her ruling, which is likely to be appealed, will have on the complex case will likely become clearer in coming weeks.
"You don't just shut down the whole street because somebody is speeding."
- Steve Wozniak, Apple cofounder
Despite the looming threat of extradition and Federal charges, Dotcom has seen growing support for his case -- both in legal arenas and in the public eye.
Yesterday, Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak came out in support of the Internet entrepreneur, saying the U.S. piracy case against Kim Dotcom is "hokey" and a threat to Internet innovation.
Wozniak said he was visiting New Zealand last month to give a speech when he learned Dotcom couldn't come to see him because he was under house arrest. So Wozniak said he visited Dotcom and the two have kept in touch by email since.
"It's just kind of ridiculous what they did to his life," Wozniak said in a telephone interview. "An awful lot of Kiwis support him. The U.S. government is on thin ground."
Wozniak said plenty of people used Megaupload for legitimate purposes before federal authorities shut it down in January and filed criminal charges against seven of its officers, including Dotcom. In a dramatic raid the same month, New Zealand police swooped down in helicopters onto the grounds of Dotcom's mansion and cut their way into a safe room where they found him hiding. He was jailed for a month before a judge decided he could be monitored from his home.
Wozniak likened the Megaupload site to a highway and those who shared pirated movies and songs to speeding motorists.
"You don't just shut down the whole street because somebody is speeding," he said.
In an email interview, Dotcom said the charges are bogus.
"The more people learn about this case the more they realize that this type of copyright disagreement between Hollywood and new cloud storage technology is a political debate, not something that belongs in the criminal court and certainly not something to justify breaking down the door to my house," he said.
Dotcom said Megaupload had been applauded for its content removal policies. But he also acknowledged the site could host pirated files.
"What people uploaded and downloaded in their storage areas was up to them. One person's licensed music MP3 file is potentially another person's infringing file," he wrote.