Hard News by Russell Brown


The Uses of Dotcom

Last night's 3 News story on its poll of potential support for the Internet Party seriously over-egged its intro. The news script opened thus:

Kim Dotcom's efforts to stay in New Zealand received a boost today - with Labour and the Greens revealing they are prepared to stop his extradition if they take power.

That's pretty big news. Trouble is, neither David Cunliffe or Russel Norman actually say that -- or anything of the kind -- in the report. I checked with the reporter, Patrick Gower, on what might have been said off-camera, by Cunliffe especially.

Gower told me that Cunliffe said he would be "open to considering" declining the US extradition request for Dotcom, were he in government. Strictly speaking, this isn't news. The responsible minister is required under New Zealand extradition law to consider the request. As Graeme Edgeler noted to me, the role of the courts is solely to confirm that a subject is eligible for extradition. The minister makes the call.

And ministers do sometimes say no, as British Home Secretary Theresa may did last year in the case of hacker Gary McKinnon, who was wanted for trial in the US. May cited McKinnon's disabilities (Asperger Syndrome) and depressive illness as grounds for refusing the request, and she was right to do so. It would have been unthinkable to consign the confused, vulnerable McKinnon to the US justice system.

But although such human rights grounds might help in a such a decision, they're not necessary. The Extradition Act 1999 notes the Minister may determine that the person is not to be surrendered if:

d)without limiting section 32(4), it appears to the Minister that compelling or extraordinary circumstances of the person including, without limitation, those relating to the age or health of the person, exist that would make it unjust or oppressive to surrender the person; or

(e)for any other reason the Minister considers that the person should not be surrendered

For any other reason. Notably, both Cunliffe and Norman mentioned the lawbreaking nature of the investigation into Dotcom's Megaupload activities. One could also be uneasy with the frank legal adventursim embodied in the slate of criminal charges faced by Dotcom and his associates, and the use of the full apparatus of the security state in pursuing the accused over what is normally a civil matter.

The 3 News poll found that 20% of those polled would consider voting for the Internet Party, and 33% of undecided voters. Now, the Internet Party would not need its funder and founder to operate in the New Zealand Parliament. But if the Internet Party did somehow cross the 5% threshold, and held the balance of power, the politics of coalition would get very interesting.

On the other hand, as Paddy noted later on Twitter, the actual number of the 1000 people polled who said they would note for the Internet Party was ... zero. Same as Act and United Future -- but the Internet Party isn't going to be gifted an electorate seat. So it was presumably with that in mind that Dotcom tweeted this this morning:

Which is probably as it should have been all along. As Chris Barton noted in a particularly thoughtful column, there is a constituency and a use for a strong policy focus on privacy, spying, copyright and internet infrastructure issues. Separated from the current circus and the sense that it's an adolescent vanity project, a virtual Internet Party manifesto might helpfully concentrate the minds of all of our elected members.

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