A New Zealand high court judge has declared the raids on Megaupload's Kim Dotcom and others to have been "illegal."
In a 56-page decision, Judge Helen Winkelmann says that when local law enforcement cooperated with the U.S. government and seized much of his property, including massive amounts of data from his computers, the warrant that executed was insufficiently detailed.
Dotcom is awaiting a hearing on whether he'll be extradited, and the ruling by the high court judge doesn't directly pertain to those proceedings, but the embattled and controversial file-sharing leader has won a small victory in the form of a declaration that the way the situation was handled wasn't properly congruent with local laws.
According to Judge Winkelmann, a search warrant must be framed with as much specificity as the relevant context permits. She says "it defines the extent of the authority to search and seize" as well as "informs the person or persons searching of the parameters of the Police's authority to search and seize goods."
When police showed up at Dotcom's mansion last January, before arresting him and informing him that the U.S. government had launched proceedings against him, it caused Dotcom to retreat to a safe room. He later said that he was confused about what was happening and had no idea that it was the police who had showed up.
The police had a search warrant, but it only mentioned his crimes as being "breach of copyright," which Judge Winkelmann agrees didn't comply with a mandate towards specificity. She says that breach of contract could mean many things, and adds, "The failure to refer to the laws of the United States on the face of the warrants, would no doubt have caused confusion to the subjects of the searches."
The judge is also troubled that clones of Dotcom's hard drive were shipped offshore without his consent or the direction given by the Solicitor-General to the Commissioner of Police.
She's granted the defendant's request for a declaration that the warrant and seizure was unlawful, but the relief given to Dotcom is limited in scope.
Most, and perhaps all, of the digital property seized has already been handed over U.S. authorities, who were recent subject to another judge's order to share what they had on Dotcom in order to help his lawyers prepare for the extradition hearing.
As for the seized property that still remains in the country, the judge orders that none of it leave the country or be accessed. The judge reiterates that that clones of the seized items have to be returned to Dotcom and has ordered that an independent official oversee the process and identify irrelevant and privileged material.
The extradition hearing for Dotcom is still scheduled for August.