Monday, January 30, 2012

MegaUpload as an Object Lesson

Recently, the US federal government shut down MegaUpload, a cloud-service offering from a company, based in Hong Kong, which allowed online backup and file sharing. The government raided the hosting premises and took the physical servers, taking the company effectively offline. They did this, nominally, because MegaUpload was used in large part to share copyrighted material; the recent setback to SOPA/PIPA, and the renewed need to demonstrate obedience to their big media overlords patrons, was probably another motivating factor. However, that wasn't the end of the story.

Today, the government released an interesting statement, regarding the online assets of the customers hosted on MegaUpload. Apparently the government had released the servers, having copied whatever forensic evidence they "needed", and the data was back under nominal control of the company. However, as they also noted, the hosting companies might delete the data if MegaUpload did not pay their [monthly] hosting fees, which given their traffic, are probably large. Of course, that might be an issue, since the government still has all their assets frozen, thus making it impossible for them to do so.

The timing to too convenient to be accidental, in my mind. Why stage a huge, international law enforcement operation against a huge internet company, and then release all their systems in a matter of weeks? Could it be that the government wanted the company to miss the hosting payment, and have a scapegoat for when their data goes away ("not our fault, the hosting companies make that decision")? That sure would make their "case" against them pretty easy, when they have no evidence left to dispute the accusations. Oh, and also, their business is entirely destroyed, regardless of the eventual outcome of the legal battles. I'd say it's a pretty shrewd play, if you intent was to utterly destroy a company, and the people running it.

Which brings us to the object lesson: the government can, and will, utterly destroy you if they want to. Did the government respect international law or boundaries? Nope. Did the government respect the 4th Amendment? Nope. Did the government even give a token nod to due process? Nope. Is there jack the people running MegaUpload can do about it? Nope. Are they going to jail, broke, their lives ruined? Yup. And we, the rabble, didn't even have to give them the extra police-state powers that SOPA/PIPA would have endowed.

Some other possible lessons here:
- You cross the gestapo at your own peril.
- If you are storing data in "the cloud", it can be read/written/deleted by other people, like governments, and you will not be able to do anything about it; plan accordingly.
- However afraid of the government you are, it's probably not enough.

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