A U.S. judge should limit the scope of a proposed court hearing examining whether a former Megaupload user can recover files that were on the website when the U.S. Department of Justice shut it down, the agency said.
The hearing should focus on whether the DOJ has control of his property, and not on whether the agency improperly seized the site, the agency said in a court brief filed Tuesday. Without those limits, the proposed hearing "has the potential to become a mini-trial conducted by a third party regarding an investigation that is still pending," DOJ lawyers wrote in the brief, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Judge Liam O'Grady said in June he was considering a search-and-seizure hearing to determine whether the DOJ acted improperly in January when seizing data stored on the file-sharing and storage site. Lawyers for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, representing video journalist Kyle Goodwin, have asked O'Grady to order the DOJ to return Goodwin's files.
But Goodwin may not have ownership of files that were uploaded to Megaupload and stored on servers owned by Web hosting provider Carpathia Hosting, the agency said in its brief. Goodwin's user agreement with Megaupload -- or Megaupload's contract with Carpathia -- may limit users' claims on data stored with the file-sharing service, the DOJ lawyers wrote.
A broader search-and-seizure hearing would waste the court's resources and could impede the DOJ's investigation of Megaupload, the agency's lawyers wrote. "If Mr. Goodwin has no interest in any seized property, the Court need not find any additional facts," they wrote. "If the Court instead proceeds with a broader hearing, many more facts may be in dispute, and the Court may unintentionally authorize a large amount of irrelevant discovery that impinge on the criminal proceedings."
The EFF, also in a brief filed Tuesday, urged O'Grady to hear arguments on whether the DOJ "disregarded the property rights of Mr. Goodwin and other innocent Megaupload users."
The hearing should be broader than what the DOJ is proposing, said Julie Samuels, an EFF lawyer. Whether Goodwin has property controlled by the DOJ is "not the be all and end all of what's at issue here," she said. "We've said from the beginning the government has responsibility when it seizes whole websites, in particular websites that store third-party data, to give those third parties access to their data."
Goodwin's dispute is not with Megaupload or Carpathia, as the DOJ has suggested, Samuels added. "Carpathia is more than willing to work with third parties, Megaupload's more than willing to work with third parties, it's the government that's stood in the way every time when the parties have tried to figure out something on their own," she said.
Even if Goodwin's files are on a Carpathia server, "that doesn't mean the government should be absolved of any wrongdoing," Samuels added. "For the government to come forward now and say, 'We don't have the stuff anymore,' isn't the right answer."
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.