Two lessons from the Megaupload seizure

by Stephan Kinsella on January 24, 2012

Glenn Greenwald has a great, but chilling, article on Salon about the Megaupload seizure, SOPA, and related matters. His two main points:

(1) It’s wildly under-appreciated how unrestrained is the Government’s power to do what it wants, and how little effect these debates over various proposed laws have on that power. …

(2) 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.

Another point that could be made: websites and services will begin to locate outside the US and to lock out American users in an attempt to avoid the USGov’s extraterritorial, maniacal wrath. As discussed in a recent Tech News Today, this is already happening, and there is a growing chilling effect on other services, such as Filesonic, which has disabled file sharing in wake of Megaupload takedown–others have too, and no doubt services like DropBox, Rapidshare, Grooveshark, even Youtube are now consulting with lawyers or planning to limit services, move out of the US, block US users, or shut down.

Update: see also PCMagazine, After Megaupload, Storage Sites Shutter Services, By Chloe Albanesius, January 24, 2012, “In the wake of last week’s government crackdown on Megaupload for copyright infringement, attention turned to what other cloud-based services might be at risk of prosecution. Could popular offerings like Dropbox, Box, or YouSendIt be targets?…”

Here’s a snippet of Greenwald’s article:

Two lessons from the Megaupload seizure

Two events this week produced some serious cognitive dissonance. First, Congressional leaders sheepishly announced that they were withdrawing (at least for the time being) two bills heavily backed by the entertainment industry — the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House –  in the wake of vocal online citizen protests (and, more significantly, coordinated opposition from the powerful Silicon Valley industry). Critics insisted that these bills were dangerous because they empowered the U.S. Government, based on mere accusations of piracy and copyright infringement, to shut down websites without any real due process. But just as the celebrations began over the saving of Internet Freedom, something else happened: the U.S. Justice Department not only indicted the owners of one of the world’s largest websites, the file-sharing site Megaupload, but also seized and shut down that site, and also seized or froze millions of dollars of its assets — all based on the unproved accusationsset forth in an indictment, that the site deliberately aided copyright infringement.

In other words, many SOPA opponents were confused and even shocked when they learned that the very power they feared the most in that bill — the power of the U.S. Government to seize and shut down websites based solely on accusations, with no trial — is a power the U.S. Government already possesses and, obviously, is willing and able to exercise even against the world’s largest sites (they have this power thanks to the the 2008  PRO-IP Act pushed by the same industry servants in Congress behind SOPA as well as by forfeiture laws used to seize the property of accused-but-not-convicted drug dealers). This all reminded me quite a bit of the shock and outrage that arose last month over the fact that Barack Obama signed into law a bill (the NDAA) vesting him with the power to militarily detain people without charges, even though, as I pointed out the very first time I wrote about that bill, indefinite detention is already a power the U.S. Government under both Bush and Obama has seized and routinely and aggressively exercises.

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