I like conspiracy theories as much as the next person. Still, just because a specific event looks like an attack on a sitting politician’s re-election prospects doesn’t necessarily mean it is.
But let us step back and think of the Megaupload raid, which apparently impacted a massive number of users and voters. Now, given that elections can often swing on thousands of citizens, you would think the DoJ, if it wanted to assure Obama’s re-election, would be doing everything possible to protect innocent users of the service.
But instead, the DoJ pretty much said these users should have known better and well, yeah, are now basically screwed.
And just who does Justice report to? The president himself – which is where this animosity could focus and, were the election close, it might help propel a challenger to victory.
Now some seem to think the Megaupload raid was actually executed in retaliation for the failure of SOPA, which obviously wouldn’t sit well with the activists behind its defeat.
Of course, I’m fully cognizant that Megaupload is probably just the tip of what will be happening this year, and given that elections are coming up, folks are likely going to get pissed at the most visible incumbent: President Barack Obama. If this happens it could, in a close race, cost Obama the election.
DOJ Reality Distortion Field
There were undoubtedly a lot of folks putting illegal videos up on the Magaupload site and, yes, they probably should have known better. However, there were apparently also a considerable amount of users who uploaded large personal files up on the site – and many probably didn’t retain backups because they thought the files were safe on the site.
As you may have noticed by now, attorneys don’t exactly live in the real world, they inhabit a fantasy land where people can be held to contracts they don’t understand, but agree to anyways. Of course, these attorneys, for the most part, aren’t elected. In addition, the only clients they actually care about are their own, which leads them down the “let them eat cake” path the DOJ appears to be taking by pointing users to the Megaupload terms of service (TOS), saying the company wasn’t responsible for the data.
However, pretty much every service does this, and the way users read the ToS never means they will delete files unless a user becomes delinquent – and even then most think there will be a time (because there almost always is), when they can still go in, get current and retrieve their data.
Of course, people who actually read the terms of service tend to be a distinct minority. And while ignorance may not protect their data, calling the victims of the Megaupload raid ignorant will not exactly encourage them to believe the current administration should be invited back.
There is also an issue of due process (which apparently doesn’t apply), as this would be like shutting down and torching a shared warehouse before it was proven, in a court, that anything inside was illegal. Clearly, the Megaupload event was designed to maximize collateral damage and, particularly during an election year, would seem terminal for the incumbent.
Pissed at Bureaucracy
It is amazing how upset you can get when faced with a bureaucrat who figures you should know better. I had an experience like this with eBay a while back when I was banned as a result of an old PayPal account that I’d stopped using years ago. I was in the midst of buying something which had taken weeks to locate, only to be told by the system I was suspended.
Upon calling for help, I was told in no uncertain terms that I could neither have the name of the person I was talking to, nor was I allowed to speak to his supervisor. I got so pissed, I actually started talking to walls and any plant that would listen. Eventually this worked itself out, but I still don’t use eBay as much as I once did.
People, and I’m including myself in this statement, can become rather upset when they are hurt and given no legal method of recourse. Granted, some folks are planning to sue the US Government but that strategy tends to be both costly and pointless. I expect with a lot of folks this will fester for a while and they will increasingly become outspoken against the incumbent government as a result.
The screwy thing? This could have all be avoided if the DOJ had simply established a mechanism for folks to get their data back, unless, of course, they wanted to send a message.
Wrapping Up: Government and Collateral Damage
In a typical action against a company that puts customers at risk, it is usually the customer’s orders which are put on hold. They are free to find an alternative vendor, though the funds might not be returned, at least initially.
However, when it comes to the issue of cloud storage, we are talking about assets belonging to law abiding citizens that could be irreplaceable in terms of business relationships, ongoing unrelated litigation (discovery), or video records of deceased children or adults which cannot be replicated. Clauses limiting liability often fail in the face of extreme damage or the appearance of negligence – and it would appear the government is at least behaving negligently, as it is making no real effort to protect innocent citizens.
Local numbers tend to be relatively small, so the risk to a government in terms of election impact would be slight outside of a local municipality. However, Internet properties can touch millions of people, and often involve protected groups (children, elderly) who could also be related to the very rich, foreign and domestic politicians, judges, and police or even those running for office. The probability that an action like this one could impact an election is thus much greater – particularly if it moves from company to company during an election year.