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Who Owns Your Big Data?

What should have been a triumph for international anti-piracy efforts by national security agencies has turned into a series of embarrassing contretemps that prompted New Zealand judges hearing the case to criticize the behavior of nearly everyone involved.

Even the judges are being hoist by their own petard. Last week the chief judge hearing the case recused himself after a New Zealand newspaper printed evidence he called the U.S. government "the enemy" during a presentation on international copyright law at the NetHui Internet conference earlier this month. "We have met the enemy," Judge David Harvey said at the conference, paraphrasing the cartoonist Walt Kelly, "and he is [the] U.S."

U.S. prosecutors may not be the enemy, but they are the source of a lot of uncertainty about who owns data stored in third-party cloud services, big data gathered from a company's own customers, and rented from outside service providers--not to mention the question of how to even assess the risk to data whose physical location a company may not be able to pinpoint.

[ For more on big data and its future implications on the enterprise, government, healthcare, and more, see 10 Big Predictions About Big Data. ]

During the course of the high-profile prosecution of file locker and alleged copyright-piracy site Megaupload, N.Z. judges have slammed the FBI for sneaking copies of Megaupload's content out of the country after it had been classified as evidence. New Zealand authorities took their share of criticism for cooperating too closely with the U.S.-based bureau, especially after the New Zealand High Court ruled that raids on Megaupload's offices were conducted illegally, without sufficient evidence of wrongdoing or even a sufficiently detailed description of the alleged offense.

Meanwhile, legitimate customers of Megaupload's storage services have been in limbo: They hired either Megaupload or storage-service vendor Carpathia Hosting, Inc. to keep copies of their data safe in the cloud, but they haven't been able to touch it since the January indictment and raid that converted thousands of gigabytes of data into evidence.

Prosecutors told a U.S. judge content owners should have to file suit against Megaupload as unsecured creditors to demand the return of their data, even though legal data plays no part in the copyright infringement case the U.S. and New Zealand are trying to build against what had been the world's largest file locker. The judge, who has yet to rule on a June motion from Megaupload user Kyle Goodwin that his data be returned, made a point in court of differentiating between requests for the return of legitimate property (data) and demands that Megaupload's allegedly illegal file-copying service be restored.

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