Chris Barton on technology

Chris Barton is a Herald Online columnist

Chris Barton: Kim pulls off greatest dotcomedy of his career

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Kim Dotcom. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Kim Dotcom. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The guerrilla performance artist Kim Dotcom pulled off the greatest dotcomedy of his career last week - making New Zealand Prime Minister John Key a laughing stock. "Of course I apologise to Mr Dotcom, and I apologise to New Zealanders," said the PM, accompanied by his now famous sucking of teeth, after revelations the Government Communications and Security Bureau (GCSB) illegally spied on Dotcom and one of his associates. "He should not have been subjected to unlawful tapping of his information."

Tapping of his information? One imagines it was his phones and email that the GCSB tapped - which no doubt got some information, though with these guys, who can be sure? Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Paul Neazor says it's not necessary for us to know how the tapping was done or what was actually tapped. But he does say in his report it did not relate to Dotcom's dispute with United States authorities "about the accumulation of sums of money".

The tapping was about "just where he might be and who might be with him" and "where he was or might be expected to be in New Zealand at a particular time." Information no doubt vital to helping the police and United States authorities launch their illegal Rambo-style search and seizure raid on Dotcom's Coatesville mansion.

But it was funny to hear the PM, straight faced, refer to Kim Schmitz, born in Kiel, West Germany on 21 January 1974, aka "Kimble" and Kim Tim Jim Vestor, as "Mr Dotcom". It's a name that laughs in the face of everything, a joke half got at once preposterous, subversive and cartoonish - especially when attached to such a larger then life man at the centre of a landmark, old-economy-versus-digital-economy copyright case. For the PM it's the political equivalent of having to apologise to Wile E Coyote for dropping an Acme Corporation anvil on his head.

The PM is the latest butt in a long line of butts of Kim Dotcom jokes. Act leader John Banks' denials about Dotcom's donations to his election campaign have put him on the last cabbage boat down the river. Our police bungling of its raids on Dotcom's mansion make them look like recent graduates from Police Academy. And our inept spy bureau - "sorry about that chief" - makes Agent 86 of Get Smart fame look good. The sorry saga of incompetence, beginning with the immigration officials who granted Dotcom residency in November 2010, despite his shady past, has made the county as a whole something of joke too.

Then there are the credibility jokes. The PM would have us believe he had never heard of Dotcom prior to the raid on his Coatsville residence which occurred on January 20 this year. In other words he must have been on Planet John Key during Dotcom's $500,000 fireworks display in central Auckland to celebrate getting his New Zealand residency. It also beggars belief when the PM says he knew nothing about the GCSB's illegal spying prior to his announcement of an inquiry into the matter last week.

For the Prime Minister, head of the Bureau and one who is constantly briefed about its activities, not to have known, means he must have either been asleep at the wheel, or that our spies deliberately withheld that information. Give us a break. He must think we all came up the river on a cabbage boat.

So many jokes that you have to wonder where the next one will fall on the American movie and recording industry in it's largely unsuccessful war against copyright piracy? Or is that a joke already? Perhaps the biggest joke of all is due process.

Go back to the beginning of how this came about. Who knew that the American Justice Department could simply seize and shut down websites based solely on accusations, with no trial? The power to do so comes courtesy of the 2008 PRO-IP Act.

"The U.S. really is a society that simply no longer believes in due process: once the defining feature of American freedom that is now scorned as some sort of fringe, radical, academic doctrine," said Glenn Greenwald at Salon at the time.

"Here is Megaupload being completely destroyed - its website shuttered, its assets seized, ongoing business rendered impossible - based solely on the unproven accusation of piracy. Whatever else is true, those issues should be decided upon a full trial in a court of law, not by government decree."

What happened to the principle of innocent until proven guilty? So far, despite American protestations that, in the war against piracy, such principles no longer count, our courts are holding the line. For the judges who have heard the extradition case, due process is not a joke and Dotcom has a right to see the evidence against him. "The person sought is entitled to the procedural rights protected by s27 of the Bill of Rights Act to ensure he or she has a fair hearing," says chief High Court judge Helen Winkelman in her recent judgement.

But the biggest joke in all of this is that the American led war against internet piracy is an abject failure. And New Zealand's unseemly haste to kowtow to American wishes to enforce an unjust, corrupted copyright system threatens to override our rule of law. Even with Megaupload down and out, widespread sharing of copyrighted material is still going on.

As Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, one of few voices of reason in the global copyright debate, points out, the time is long overdue to sue for peace - to find a more efficient way for copyright to benefit authors and artists before publishers, while ensuring the spread of free culture and knowledge. One lives in hope of enlightened government that might begin to remedy copyright wrongs. Whether Dotcom will play a part in that ideal remains to be seen, but meanwhile, here's an idea. He'd make a great judge on New Zealand's Got Talent.

- NZ Herald

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