U.S. Government Wins Dozens of Millions From Kim Dotcom

This also ensures that Dotcom won’t have money to defend himself…

Following the 2012 raid on Megaupload and Kim Dotcom, U.S. and New Zealand authorities seized millions of dollars in cash and other property.

Claiming the assets were obtained through copyright and money laundering crimes, last July the U.S. government launched a separate civil action in which it asked the court to forfeit the bank accounts, cars and other seized possessions of the Megaupload defendants.

Megaupload’s defense heavily protested the request but was found to have no standing, as Dotcom and his colleagues can be seen as fugitives.

A few hours ago District Court Judge Liam O’Grady ordered a default judgment in favor of the U.S. Government. This means that the contested assets, which are worth an estimated $67 million, now belong to the United States.

“It all belongs to the U.S. government now. No trial. No due process,” Dotcom informs TF.

More than a dozen Hong Kong and New Zealand bank accounts have now been forfeited including some of the property purchased through them. The accounts all processed money that was obtained through Megaupload’s alleged illegal activities.

Link (TorrentFreak)

US Pressured Japan, Canada, New Zealand And Others Into Extending Copyright

We noted that this was likely about a month ago, but IP-Watch is confirming that the USTR has bullied Japan, Canada, New Zealand and three other countries into agreeing that copyright terms must be life plus 70 years in the latest draft of the TPP agreement. This makes absolutely no sense, in part because even the head of the US copyright office has argued for the US to look at returning to the “life plus 50” baseline standard currently required by the Berne Agreement, and which those countries already abide by. Yet, here the USTR is rejecting that idea and saying that “life plus 70” will be required. That means that those countries will now have to jack up their copyright terms for absolutely no reason, even though it almost certainly harms the public for no benefit.

It’s not like these countries don’t know this is a bad idea. It’s been explained to them multiple times that even though the countries that have life plus 70 already are regretting it — and yet the USTR pushed for it anyway, and these countries backed down.

As we’ve noted for years, this is the really nefarious part of the agreements that the USTR negotiates. While this particular change won’t go against current US law, it makes copyright reform virtually impossible. That’s the real point of all this: by tying us up in “international obligations,” negotiated in backroom deals with no public input or review, the USTR is able to block Congress from having any meaningful chance at fixing the US’s broken copyright laws. Anyone who tries to put in place more sensible regimes will be told that they’re “violating international obligations” which will tie up the US government in things like those corporate sovereignty ISDS tribunals, in which merely fixing American copyright law will be seen as an unfair “appropriation” by the US government.

Link (Techdirt)

New Zealand Spied on WTO Director Candidates

New Zealand launched a covert surveillance operation targeting candidates vying to be director general of the World Trade Organization, a top-secret document reveals.

In the period leading up to the May 2013 appointment, the country’s electronic eavesdropping agency programmed an Internet spying system to intercept emails about a list of high-profile candidates from Brazil, Costa Rica, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, and South Korea.

New Zealand’s trade minister Tim Groser was one of nine candidates in contention for the position at the WTO, a powerful international organization based in Geneva, Switzerland that negotiates trade agreements between nations. The surveillance operation, carried out by Government Communications Security Bureau, or GCSB, appears to have been part of a secret effort to help Groser win the job.

Groser ultimately failed to get the position.

A top-secret document obtained by The Intercept and the New Zealand Herald reveals how GCSB used the XKEYSCORE Internet surveillance system to collect communications about the WTO director general candidates.

XKEYSCORE is run by the National Security Agency and is used to analyze billions of emails, Internet browsing sessions and online chats that are vacuumed up from about 150 different locations worldwide. GCSB has gained access to XKEYSCORE because New Zealand is a member of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance alongside the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

Link (The Intercept)

New Zealand Used NSA System to Target Officials, Anti-Corruption Campaigner

New Zealand’s eavesdropping agency used an Internet mass surveillance system to target government officials and an anti-corruption campaigner on a neighboring Pacific island, according to a top-secret document.

Analysts from Government Communications Security Bureau, or GCSB, programmed the Internet spy system XKEYSCORE to intercept documents authored by the closest aides and confidants of the prime minister on the tiny Solomon Islands. The agency also entered keywords into the system so that it would intercept documents containing references to the Solomons’ leading anti-corruption activist, who is known for publishing government leaks on his website.

XKEYSCORE is run by the National Security Agency, and is used to analyze billions of emails, Internet browsing sessions and online chats that are collected from some 150 different locations worldwide. GCSB has gained access to XKEYSCORE because New Zealand is a member of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance alongside the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

A number of GCSB’s XKEYSCORE targets are disclosed in a top-secret document that was obtained by The Intercept and New Zealand newspaper the Herald on Sunday. The document raises questions about the scope of the surveillance and offers an unprecedented insight into specific people monitored by New Zealand’s most secretive agency.

The targets list, dated from January 2013, was authored by a GCSB analyst. It is contained in a so-called “fingerprint,” a combination of keywords used to extract particular information from the vast quantities of intercepted data swept up by XKEYSCORE. None of the individuals named on the list appear to have any association with terrorism.

Most of the targets, in fact, had a prominent role in the Solomon Islands government. Their roles around the time of January 2013 suggest GCSB was interested in collecting information sent among the prime minister’s inner circle. The targets included: Barnabas Anga, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade; Robert Iroga, chief of staff to the prime minister; Dr Philip Tagini, special secretary to the prime minister; Fiona Indu, senior foreign affairs official; James Remobatu, cabinet secretary; and Rose Qurusu, a Solomon Islands public servant.

The seventh person caught up in the GCSB’s surveillance sweep is the leading anti-corruption campaigner in the Solomon Islands, Benjamin Afuga. For several years he has run a popular Facebook group that exposes corruption, often publishing leaked information and documents from government whistleblowers. His organization, Forum Solomon Islands International, has an office next door to Transparency International in Honiara, the capital city of the Solomon Islands. GCSB analysts programmed XKEYSCORE so that it would intercept documents sent over the Internet containing the words “Forum Solomon Islands,” “FSII,” and “Benjamin Afuga.”

Link (The Intercept)

The Orwellian Re-Branding of “Mass Surveillance” as Merely “Bulk Collection”

Just as the Bush administration and the U.S. media re-labelled “torture” with the Orwellian euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” to make it more palatable, the governments and media of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance are now attempting to re-brand “mass surveillance” as “bulk collection” in order to make it less menacing (and less illegal). In the past several weeks, this is the clearly coordinated theme that has arisen in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand as the last defense against the Snowden revelations, as those governments seek to further enhance their surveillance and detention powers under the guise of terrorism.

This manipulative language distortion can be seen perfectly in yesterday’s white-washing report of GCHQ mass surveillance from the servile rubber-stamp calling itself “The Intelligence and Security Committee of the UK Parliament (ISC)”(see this great Guardian editorial this morning on what a “slumbering” joke that “oversight” body is). As Committee Member MP Hazel Blears explained yesterday (photo above), the Parliamentary Committee officially invoked this euphemism to justify the collection of billions of electronic communications events every day.

The Committee actually acknowledged for the first time (which Snowden documents long ago proved) that GCHQ maintains what it calls “Bulk Personal Datasets” that contain “millions of records,” and even said about pro-privacy witnesses who testified before it: “we recognise their concerns as to the intrusive nature of bulk collection.” That is the very definition of “mass surveillance,” yet the Committee simply re-labelled it “bulk collection,” purported to distinguish it from “mass surveillance,” and thus insist that it was all perfectly legal.

Link (The Intercept)

New Zealand Prime Minister Retracts Vow To Resign if Mass Surveillance Is Shown

In August, 2013, as evidence emerged of the active participation by New Zealand in the “Five Eyes” mass surveillance program exposed by Edward Snowden, the country’s conservative Prime Minister, John Key, vehemently denied that his government engages in such spying. He went beyond mere denials, expressly vowing to resign if it were ever proven that his government engages in mass surveillance of New Zealanders. He issued that denial, and the accompanying resignation vow, in order to re-assure the country over fears provoked by a new bill he advocated to increase the surveillance powers of that country’s spying agency, Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) – a bill that passed by one vote thanks to the Prime Minister’s guarantees that the new law would not permit mass surveillance.

Since then, a mountain of evidence has been presented that indisputably proves that New Zealand does exactly that which Prime Minister Key vehemently denied – exactly that which he said he would resign if it were proven was done. Last September, we reported on a secret program of mass surveillance at least partially implemented by the Key government that was designed to exploit the very law that Key was publicly insisting did not permit mass surveillance. At the time, Snowden, citing that report as well as his own personal knowledge of GCSB’s participation in the mass surveillance tool XKEYSCORE, wrote in an article for the Intercept:

Let me be clear: any statement that mass surveillance is not performed in New Zealand, or that the internet communications are not comprehensively intercepted and monitored, or that this is not intentionally and actively abetted by the GCSB, is categorically false. . . . The prime minister’s claimto the public, that “there is no and there never has been any mass surveillance” is false. The GCSB, whose operations he is responsible for, is directly involved in the untargeted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, satellite, radio, and phone networks.

Link (The Intercept)

Aussie Anti-Piracy Plans Boost Demand for Anonymous VPNs

Australia has been called out as the world’s piracy capital for several years, a claim that eventually captured the attention of the local Government.

After negotiations between ISPs and entertainment companies bore no fruit, authorities demanded voluntary anti-piracy measures from Internet providers. If that failed, the Government threatened to tighten the law.

Faced with an ultimatum the telecoms body Communications Alliance published a draft proposal on behalf of the ISPs, outlining a three-strikes notification system.

Titled ‘Copyright Notice Scheme Industry Code‘, the proposal suggests that ISPs start to forward infringement notices to their subscribers. After the initial notice subscribers are warned that copyright holders may go to court to obtain their identities.

Several groups have voiced their concerns in response. Australia’s leading consumer group Choice, for example, warns over the potential for lawsuits and potentially limitless fines.

These threats haven’t gone unnoticed by the general public either. While the proposals have not yet been implemented, many Australians are already taking countermeasures.

Over the past two weeks many file-sharers have been seeking tools to hide their IP-addresses and bypass the proposed monitoring system. By using VPN services or BitTorrent proxies their sharing activities can no longer be linked to their ISP account, rendering the three-strikes system useless.

Data from Google trends reveals that interest in anonymizing services has surged, with searches for “VPN” nearly doubling in recent days. This effect, shown in the graph below, is limited to Australia and appears to be a direct result of the ISPs proposals.

Link (TorrentFreak)

Snowden Docs: New Zealand Spying On Friendly Neighboring Countries For The NSA

More Snowden docs have been released, covering the extent of GCSB’s (New Zealand’s intelligence agency) spying on supposedly “friendly” island nations. As is par for the course for intelligence programs, the documents show massive bulk collections of data and communications — all of which are immediately shared with the other members of the “Five Eyes” club.

Since 2009, the Government Communications Security Bureau intelligence base at Waihopai has moved to “full-take collection”, indiscriminately intercepting Asia-Pacific communications and providing them en masse to the NSA through the controversial NSA intelligence system XKeyscore, which is used to monitor emails and internet browsing habits.

This sort of spying — while apparently “normal,” in light of previously-released documents — indicates many governments enjoy spying for spying’s sake, rather than for the justifications they often offer in defense of untargeted surveillance.

The documents, provided by US whistleblower whistleblower Edward Snowden, reveal that most of the targets are not security threats to New Zealand, as has been suggested by the Government.

Instead, the GCSB directs its spying against a surprising array of New Zealand’s friends, trading partners and close Pacific neighbours. These countries’ communications are supplied directly to the NSA and other Five Eyes agencies with little New Zealand oversight or decision-making, as a contribution to US worldwide surveillance.

Link (Techdirt)

U.S. Govt Files For Default Judgment on Dotcom’s Cash and Cars

In the wake of the now-famous 2012 raid, the U.S. government has done everything in its power to deny Kim Dotcom access to the assets of his former Megaupload empire. Millions were seized, setting the basis for a legal battle that has dragged on for more than three years.

In a July 2014 complaint submitted at a federal court in Virginia, the Department of Justice asked for forfeiture of the bank accounts, cars and other seized possessions, claiming they were obtained through copyright and money laundering crimes.

“Kim Dotcom and Megaupload will vigorously oppose the US Department of Justice’s civil forfeiture action,” Dotcom lawyer Ira Rothken told TF at the time.

But in the final days of last month Dotcom received a blow when a ruling from the United States barred him from fighting the seizure. A Federal Court in Virginia found that Dotcom was not entitled to contest the forfeiture because he is viewed as a “fugitive” facing extradition.

“We think this is not offensive to just Kim Dotcom’s rights, but the rights of all Kiwis,” Rothken said.

Wasting no time, yesterday the United States went in for the kill. In a filing in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, the Department of Justice requested an entry of default against the assets of Kim Dotcom plus co-defendants Mathias Ortmann, Bram van der Kolk, Finn Batato, Julius Bencko, and Sven Echternach.

The targets for forfeiture are six bank accounts held in Hong Kong in the names of Ortmann, der Kolk, Echternach, Bencko and Batato. New Zealand based assets include an ANZ National Bank account in the name of Megastuff Limited, an HSBC account held by der Kolk and a Cleaver Richards Limited Trust Account for Megastuff Limited held at the Bank of New Zealand. Two Mercedes-Benz vehicles (an A170 and an ML500) plus their license plates complete the claim.

The request for default judgment was entered soon after.

US Court Rules That Kim Dotcom Is A ‘Fugitive’ And Thus DOJ Can Take His Money

In the long, convoluted and complex legal battles facing Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, there was some bizarre stuff that happened late last year. As you may recall, early on, the US government seized basically all of his stuff and money. Dotcom has made efforts to get some of it returned, as it’s tough to fight the most powerful government in the world when it’s holding onto all of your money. Keep in mind from our previous discussions on asset seizure and forfeiture, the government can basically seize whatever it wants, just by claiming it was somehow related to a crime, but the seizure is only a temporary process. If the government wants to keep it, it then needs to go through a separate process known as civil asset forfeiture, which is effectively the government suing the assets. Back in July, the US government moved to forfeit everything it had seized from Dotcom in a new lawsuit with the catchy name USA v. All Assets Listed In Attachment A, And All Interest, Benefits, And Assets Traceable Thereto. As you may have guessed, Attachment A [pdf] is basically all of Kim Dotcom’s money and posessions.

Back in November, the DOJ argued that it should get to keep all of Kim Dotcom’s money and stuff because he’s a “fugitive”, which is a bizarre and ridiculous way to portray Kim Dotcom, who has been going through a long and protracted legal process over his potential extradition from New Zealand (though he’s offered to come to the US willingly if the government lets him mount a real defense by releasing his money). Dotcom’s lawyers told the court that it’s ridiculous to call him a fugitive, but it appears that Judge Liam O’Grady didn’t buy it.

In a ruling that was just posted a little while ago, O’Grady sided with the government, and gave the DOJ all of Dotcom’s things. You can read the full reasoning here and it seems to take on some troubling logic. Dotcom’s lawyers pointed out, as many of us have, that there is no secondary copyright infringement under criminal law, but the judge insists that there’s enough to show “conspiracy to commit copyright infringement.” But the reasoning here is bizarre. Part of it is the fact that Megaupload did remove links to infringing content from its top 100 downloads list. To me, that seems like evidence of the company being a good actor in the space, and not trying to serve up more infringing downloads. To Judge O’Grady and the DOJ, it’s somehow evidence of a conspiracy. No joke.

Link (Techdirt)