Material irrelevant to police investigation that was seized from Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom and three associates in January 2012 will have to be returned to them, a court in New Zealand has ruled.
The police are also required to provide to the plaintiffs clones of devices that contain information considered relevant to the investigation.
New Zealand High Court Justice Helen Winkelmann also ruled Friday that the police had used "unlawful" search warrants when they searched and seized computers and hard disks at the Auckland residence of Dotcom.
Dotcom and colleagues, and two companies including Megaupload, were indicted by a grand jury in the U.S. in January last year, and charged with engaging in a racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement and money laundering, and two substantive counts of criminal copyright infringement, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
"The warrants could not authorise the permanent seizure of hard drives and digital materials against the possibility that they might contain relevant material, with no obligation to check them for relevance," the Judge wrote in her order, while asking that irrelevant material should be returned to Dotcom and associates.
The warrants could not authorize the shipping offshore of the hard drives without checking if they contained relevant material, the Judge observed. Nor could they keep the plaintiffs out of their own information, including information irrelevant to the alleged offences.
Any device that is found to contain material that is not relevant should be returned to the plaintiffs, according to the Friday order. U.S. authorities will also be required to destroy any clones sent to them that contained irrelevant material, along with all material derived from the clones.
The police may retain storage devices that contain a mixture of relevant and irrelevant data, but should provide a complete clone of those devices to the plaintiffs first, before they provide a clone to the U.S. from which personal images and video have been deleted. If clones have already been provided to U.S. authorities, they are expected to delete personal photographs or film.
The U.S. wanted to keep all the material seized just in case some new issues do emerge, according to court records.
New Zealand's Supreme Court earlier this month granted Megaupload leave to appeal a ruling that denied it access to evidence held by the U.S. government. Megaupload would like to see the evidence ahead of hearings for the extradition to the U.S. of Dotcom and colleagues, scheduled for August.