Dotcom Man of the Year?

GORDON CAMPBELL
Last updated 10:51 05/11/2012

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In any contest for New Zealand Man of the Year status, the Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom would have to be the raging favourite.

Single-handedly, Dotcom has defined our news agenda during 2012 from the moment the FBI and local police raided his mansion in January until last week’s announcement that he plans to co-finance the resurrection of the Pacific Fibre cable project linking New Zealand to the United States.

In between came the string of stories about Dotcom’s ‘‘anonymous’’ donation to the John Banks mayoral campaign.
Not to mention the series of legal victories won by the Dotcom defence team, which ultimately triggered weeks of politically embarrassing revelations about illegal surveillance adventures by our security services.  

Along the way, New Zealanders have developed an unlikely affection for Dotcom, so much so that the recent Tui billboard attacks on his wife seemed a serious public relations blunder by the beer company.

Dotcom has also shone an accidental spotlight on several important national issues.

Evidently, there is an inadequate system of checks and balances on our security services.

Our police were also far too keen to co-operate with the FBI in a mission against Dotcom that looked like overkill, and which lacked proper legal authority.

We’ve been here before, of course.

The inability of the New Zealand security services to separate fact from the fantasy in the information fed to them by foreign intelligence sources – or to admit their errors once the mistakes become apparent – had been well demonstrated a few years ago, in the case of the Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui.

Evidently, nothing useful was learned from that debacle.

No systemic change resulted, and a similar readiness to leap to dubious conclusions was demonstrated over Dotcom.

Luckily for the Clark Government, Zaoui never attained the level of public popularity that Dotcom has almost effortlessly achieved.

Assuming that his offer to part-finance the $400 million Pacific Fibre project is genuine, Dotcom would thereby almost double New Zealand’s available bandwidth, and in the process would create jobs in a fast-growing industry. That would be bound to increase New Zealand competitive position on a value-added basis. In short, Dotcom could easily become the poster boy for everything our business immigration policy purports to stand for, and yet so rarely delivers. 

If it hasn’t reached that point already, the questions with respect to Dotcom could soon become: On economic grounds, can we afford to extradite such a person? On political grounds, can Prime Minister John Key afford the fallout from Dotcom’s dispatch in shackles from Auckland airport? 

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Keep in mind that with Dotcom’s advent into the Pacific Fibre project, New Zealanders would still be charged an access fee, but reportedly, the amount involved could be as low as one-fifth of current bandwidth plans and three to five times faster, with no transfer limits. 

Supposedly, British Prime Minister David Cameron is Key’s political mentor. Well, only weeks ago, Cameron’s Government finally decided to refuse to extradite the hacker Gary McKinnon to face trial in the United States.

If Key did likewise, Dotcom might well make a genuine contribution to New Zealand.

Why, given David Shearer’s current woes, Dotcom could even become a candidate to lead the Labour Party, which has done pretty well in the past with leaders of the chunkier body type.

- The Wellingtonian

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