The operation to arrest the founder of the online file-sharing service Megaupload and close down the website has left users worldwide in limbo and prompted warnings that consumers should not rely on “cloud” storage for their data.
Kim Dotcom, who was arrested during his 38th birthday party at his luxurious Auckland mansion, was the brain behind Megaupload, infamous as a place to allegedly download pirated movies and television programmes.
But apart from storing allegedly illegal material, Megaupload was used legitimately by hundreds of thousands – possibly millions – of people around the world.
The site address yesterday displayed a notice from the FBI announcing the domain name had been seized “pursuant to an order issued by the US District Court”, with no indication when, or even if, they would be able to access their files again.
Steve Su, a Perth academic, was caught out by the closure. He lost material he had uploaded to share with his students.
Su said the FBI should have distinguished between legal and illegal content.
“It’s like confiscating everyone’s mobile phone because terrorists used them,” he said. “I don’t think it’s correct to penalise the technology because, based on that logic, shouldn’t the internet be taken down, as this is how people infringe copyright?”
Mark Pesce, a futurist and web commentator, said the incident had cast a shadow over cloud storage services in general.
“Everyone who is using a cloud-based back-up service right now is asking themselves how secure it is,” Pesce said.
“The folks who have legitimate files on Megaupload can’t get to them and they are pissed off. It has made cloud services look that much less legitimate.”
Megaupload is just one of several popular services known as “cyberlockers” that allow users to upload files and access them from wherever they want.
Sites such as Dropbox, RapidShare and Hotfile typically take little or no responsibility for the material their users upload, potentially leaving the sites open to legal action.
The author and software developer John Allsopp said if people were serious about protecting precious data such as family photos and videos, keeping local copies was essential.
”In addition to keeping your content in the cloud, it’s essential to also keep a local backup,” Mr Allsopp said.
“And because backing up is something even most tech savvy people tend to not do religiously, a network-attached storage device which your laptop or desktop can connect to wirelessly, and to which backups can be automatically be made as often as several times a day, is a no-brainer.”
Dotcom and the three other men arrested in the raid are expected to appear in an Auckland court today for proceedings to extradite them to the US.
The police spent much of yesterday searching the $30 million mansion leased by Dotcom in the Auckland suburb of Coatesville.
They removed artwork, computers, documents and 18 luxury cars, one of which reportedly bore the number plate “GOD”.
Dotcom has retained the American lawyer Robert Bennett, who represented Bill Clinton in the Paula Jones sex harassment case, to fight charges of criminal copyright infringement and conspiracy to commit racketeering.
Carlos Sanchez Almeida, a Spanish lawyer known for his crusading stance on issues of online privacy and piracy, has urged users to take stock of the data they have lost in the Megaupload shutdown in preparation for a possible class action against the US government.