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Why Snowden and Assange line up with alleged digital pirate Kim Dotcom (+video)

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Brett Phibbs/New Zealand Herald/AP

(Read caption) Wikileaks founder Julian Assange (top) appears via video link from London as international human rights lawyer Laila Harre (bottom l.), Robert Amsterdam (2nd l.), journalist and author Glenn Greenwald (2nd r.), and Kim Dotcom (r.), attend a political forum in Auckland, New Zealand, Town Hall, Sept. 15.

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Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald, and Edward Snowden all appeared at a political rally yesterday in New Zealand for a party founded by a German national wanted in the United States on racketeering, money laundering, and piracy charges.

Kim Dotcom was their host – a virtual host in the case of Snowden and Assange, who appeared via video links from Russia and Britain, respectively. Mr. Dotcom (birth name: Kim Schmitz) has spending his fortune as he fights extradition to the US to build New Zealand's Internet Mana Party, which is competing in Saturday's general election. He hopes to unseat Prime Minister John Key, who has a comfortable lead in the polls. 

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Aside from the strange spectacle of four foreigners being the stars of a New Zealand political rally, the support for Dotcom is revealing of the non-residents' views. While they mostly talk and write in public about the evils of what they claim is pervasive government surveillance (Russia appears to get a pass), Dotcom made a vast fortune distributing the creative work of others without payment. It can only be assumed that they share Dotcom's views. 

Mr. Snowden wrote in a piece timed for the event that "if you live in New Zealand, you are being watched," despite Mr. Key's insistence that this is a false claim by Dotcom's party. Mr. Assange alleged that the US controls New Zealand's surveillance efforts and that therefore has "proceeded with annexing" the country.

Mr. Greenwald, who traveled to the event on the Internet Party's dime (he said his fee would be donated to charity), engaged in a war of words with Key via the press after the prime minister labelled him a "clown" and Dotcom's "henchman." In an unusual move, Key released declassified government documents that he said proved Greenwald and Snowden's claims were false.

Naturally, this didn't satisfy Greenwald. "This information should never have been marked classified in the first place because it was being hidden not for national security reasons but to conceal from the public what this government was doing," he wrote. 

Assange's libertarian leanings are well known. He's deeply hostile to virtually all Western governments and advocates some form of government of, by, and for digital natives. This is what Assange said to Dotcom yesterday: "We share the same prosecutor, so I understand what is going on there... [the US] is trying to apply US law in as many countries as possible, applying their law in New Zealand to coerce and pluck out people to other states."

Extraditions and interdictions

This may play well with the faithful, but is a very odd statement when unpacked. Assange jumped bail to hide out in the Ecuadorian embassy in London two years ago after a United Kingdom court ruled that he could be extradited to Sweden, where he's accused of rape by two women. While the US has investigated Assange and Wikileaks for their role in publicizing the documents provided to them by jailed former soldier Chelsea Manning, it hasn't made any formal request to extradite Assange, either before or after he fled to the embassy. 

To Assange, there is no daylight between a rape investigation in Sweden and a US desire to punish him for Wikileaks' work. And putting himself in the same camp with Dotcom – two victims of American persecution – indicates he has no regard for the law, at all. 

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Dotcom is wanted in the US for running the now-defunct file-sharing site Megaupload, which fueled his lavish and puckish international lifestyle. In January 2012, a grand jury in Virginia indicted him for allegedly running a "worldwide criminal organization whose members engaged in criminal copyright infringement and money laundering on a massive scale, with estimated harm to copyright holders well in excess of $500,000,000 and reported income in excess of $175,000,000."

Dotcom's website provided high speeds to file sharers in exchange for a small fee, and also provided cash and other rewards to website users for uploading more content. In its heyday, it was the premier site for sharing and trading stolen movies, music, and software. Dotcom's lawyers have defended him by saying that he was merely providing a cloud storage service, and can't be held responsible for any copyright infringements by his customers.

'Mafia' plate

At the time of the US indictment, Dotcom was living in a $18 million mansion near Auckland. Police broke into a panic room there to arrest him and seized assets that included luxury cars with vanity license plates that read "HACKER," "MAFIA," and "GOD." 

Now the German national has created a political party that advocates doing away with copyright laws and digital surveillance, spending $2.5 million of his own fortune. Like Assange, Dotcom sees a political conspiracy behind his legal troubles.

He's repeatedly alleged that New Zealand granted him residency status in 2010 as an elaborate set-up negotiated between Key and Warner Brothers, the Hollywood movie giant. He charges that a promise was made by Key to the US company that he would be arrested and extradited, in exchange for the company agreeing to film The Hobbit trilogy in New Zealand. Director Peter Jackson filmed his earlier Lord of the Rings trilogy in the country. Yesterday, Dotcom gave out what he alleged was an email written by Warner CEO Kevin Tsujihara proving the conspiracy. Warner Brothers and Key both said the email was a fake. 

What good the event will do for Dotcom and his party is hard to say. Polling before the event showed the party likely to win just 3 seats in New Zealand's 120 seat parliament – in part due to their linkup with a party focused on rights for New Zealand's Maori.