I’m not a pirate, I’m an innovator.
Kim Dotcom, The Guardian, Jan 15, 2014
They have become a class of targets – the cyber celebrities, making hactivism and exposing state secrets the essence of their craft. Their detractors claim that they are trading, be it the likes of Edward Snowden, who imparts information on the surveillance matrix of the US and its alliance; Julian Assange, who does so across a broad range of cloaked secrets; or Kim Dotcom, who has gotten on the goat of the US security establishment for being an irrepressible internet pirate.
Taking their project into politics is a true work in progress. Assange made murmurings on a shoestring budget last year, hoping for an electoral push in Australia that never came. Ideas struggle to capture a landscape awash in dulling affluence and seemingly endless resources. Dotcom, however, may be able to inch his way with both bulk and buck into the New Zealand political scene as the next big troublemaker of Internet fame.
Dotcom’s own background is colourful enough, even if he does look like he is trying awfully hard to grab the celebrity cream. Of Finnish-German background, he has shown that distance is no deterrence when it comes to Internet mischief. The jurisdiction of money and mockery is global.
Initially, he was no Snowden or Assange, being himself an entrepreneur who mocks a system that is broken by cashing in on it. His success comes at an expense that has been permitted, an absurd global copyright system that manacles users who otherwise seek choice. Prohibition did, after all, provide deliciously fertile soil for Al Capone.
The absurdity of the system is also demonstrated by the global reach of the copyright police, whose headquarters are never local, but based in a US jurisdiction which sings the global tune. Its notes reach far, and timid law enforcement authorities are reluctant to refuse “cooperation” with them.
Dotcom’s exploits remain important – creator of the Megaupload site, something that catapulted him to folkloric status amongst the information sharers of on the web. US officials have thought less of that status, deeming him a pirate for having facilitated a grand swindle of Hollywood’s copyright earnings. Six Hollywood studios are breathing down his expansive neck.
Dotcom is also accused of money laundering and racketeering, suggesting a certain degree of envy on the part of those seeking to bring him to the US. (How dare he mimic our very own piratical image?) Should he ever get to the US on extradition, the charges he has accumulated may land him punishments for up to 88 years in prison.
In a fancy rebuke, Dotcom has also pinned his colours to the ever growing Snowden mast, arguing that “governments want to engage in mass surveillance and have total citizen control.” On September 15, he promises, along with Glenn Greenwald, to hold a revelatory press conference in Auckland armed with a good deal of dirt. The familiar topic: US and NZ surveillance programs and the dimensions of their avarice. This will certainly add spice to the campaign for the Mana Internet Party, one which he has founded to challenge the New Zealand political order.
There is still the looming question mark about how Internet politics can translate into electoral effect. The Pirate Party has already shown that it can get candidates into an electoral forum – the elections in Iceland in 2013 saw them win three seats. Dotcom, in some ways similar to Assange, has to live with the polarising effect opening the state kitty on secrets does. Some people may back your project, but often in secret, and often from the distance. Then come the usual fractiousness that vibrant activism stocked with mercurial characters can cause within a movement. This does not augur well for votes.
The hidden suggestion here is whether the cyber activist has a place taking seats in an actual parliament, or is far better off stirring the pot with a very long spoon, one well away from electoral chambers. Such ideas are flawed to begin with, ignoring the innovation that forms of activism can take. Dotcom is as good as any to form a party, though it remains to be seen how his embryonic outfit performs. The big target, as it has been with other new transparency and internet parties, are “Generation Y voters”, the apathetic swathe of individuals who vote with reluctant, heavy feet.
Dotcom feels he has the children of Google onside. “We make politics cool and direct. We have the apps and the sites for youth to engage.” Dotcom, in addition to having several dirty files on NZ political complicity with US surveillance, is also enthused by what NZ might do in terms of “all tech and internet matters” which are evidently out of the government’s reach. The focus should be on “growing our tech and internet sector”.
There are other irons in the fire. Dotcom, while campaigning, is attempting to bring GCSB, New Zealand’s version of the NSA, to book via a private prosecution. His grudge there is a raid on his home. The prosecution is “highly likely. My legal team is working on it.”
Come September 20, Dotcom, and New Zealand politics, may have taken on a different colouring. John Key’s right wing coalition is worried, as it should be – the proportional system of voting in the country tolerates a degree of innovation. The impact may well seep into other electorates, another chip that falls, another loss for those who believe information, and its use by the public, needs to be bagged, locked and retrieved only on sufferance.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org