Former New York judge Abraham Sofaer has come out on the side of consumers.
When the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) took down file-sharing site Megaupload earlier this year, it set in motion what amounts to a lockdown on the site's 25 petabytes of data. The 66.6 million former customers who own the data have been prevented from retrieving or accessing it. This, according to former New York district judge Abraham David Sofaer, is an "outrageous" state of affairs - so he's decided to start litigating on behalf of the former customers by offering his expertise to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) free of charge.
"I was thinking the government hadn't learned to be discreet in its conduct in the digital world. This is a perfect example on how they are failing to apply traditional standards in the new context," Sofaer told Wired.
Sofaer asked commentators to think about what the situation would look like if we were talking about a bank, with the data acting as customers' deposits. How would the DOJ act then? "Of course they would help customers get back their deposits," said Sofear. "But think about this new world. You can see very clearly that the government is acting in a manner that is indiscriminate."
He also added that "[The DOJ is] eager to make cases, and to be as little bothered by the consequences as possible...When I was a prosecutor, I probably would have been the same way."
Sofaer says that he is working with the EFF to try and create a solution where former Megaupload customers are allowed to retrieve their non-illegal data. Part of this scheme would include informing the customers that they have the right to their legal data files.
Julie Samuels, who is working with Sofaer at the EFF, is happy to have him on board. "It's clear that he really gets why this case matters and has the experience and perspective necessary to take the long view," she said. "If the court allows the government's actions to go unchecked here, we'll be facing a world with inhibited property rights that is less friendly for innovation."
Sofaer will no doubt make a formidable ally for the EFF. As a former judge with interest and expertise in issues involving the internet (he was apparently in the midst of presenting a paper on cyberattacks at the National Academy of Sciences when he learned about the seized Megaupload files, for instance), his knowledge of the U.S. judicial system combined with his affinity for matters of internet-based importance should make him an excellent advocate for former customers of Megaupload who still can't access their (potentially legitimate) data.