Who's spying on Kim Dotcom now?
5 December, 2016
Kim Dotcom wants to know - is he being spied on again?
The question came after the discovery of a newly installed surveillance camera in the penthouse suite of the Hilton on Auckland's Princes Wharf.
And it turns out the answer might be "yes". The camera belongs to NZ Customs and is being used by the NZ Defence Force - although both agencies say any surveillance of Dotcom's home would have been accidental.
The latest instalment in Dotcom's complicated relationship with New Zealand government agencies came one evening last week as the former Megaupload owner was looking across from his penthouse apartment towards the neighbouring Hilton.
In the dark of a spring Auckland night, he noticed a light through a curtain on what was normally a deserted floor.
"I social engineered hotel staff by calling during the night shift ... and told them a story that someone left the terrace door of the penthouse open and that the curtain is flying in the wind.
"A housekeeper went up and pulled the curtain to the side exposing the camera. Then the housekeeper left and the curtain remained open."
Dotcom photographed the camera and zoomed in on the image as close as he was able, and saw what he believed to be a lens focused on his apartment.
If it sounds paranoid, remember this is the New Zealand resident who was illegally spied on by New Zealand's electronic spy agency, arrested on copyright charges by our elite police anti-terrorist strike force and mocked by our spy agency, the Security Intelligence Service.
Dotcom and his fellow accused continue to resist an extradition request that would see them facing a range of copyright and other charges in the United States.
Armed with images showing the camera, Dotcom had his lawyers write to the Hilton to ask for an explanation.
The answer was as odd as the existence of the camera - the Hilton told Dotcom's lawyers that the camera had been placed in the penthouse by NZ Customs Service - the agency charged with protecting our border.
Dotcom said: "They claim that NZ Customs told them that they are monitoring the harbour during the Navy celebrations.
"But the camera lens was facing the opposite way - at my apartment. My team has now written to Customs to provide us with more information and a copy of the material for us to review."
The "Navy celebrations" are a reference to the Royal NZ Navy's 75th anniversary, which was marked in Waitemata Harbour from November 16, a day before Dotcom noticed the camera.
Customs group manager of intelligence, investigations and enforcement Jamie Bamford confirmed the agency owned the camera.
He said it had been installed by Customs then monitored and operated by NZDF personnel. Customs had retained the footage and had been reviewing it since Dotcom's lawyers raised questions about the camera.
"Yes, there is some footage of the neighbouring building. We're confident at the moment that we haven't captured any people in the neighbouring building.
"We had no knowledge of where Kim Dotcom was. Kim Dotcom is of no interest to Customs."
Dotcom has railed against Customs for the detention and search of guests who declared on arrival in New Zealand they were intending to stay with the internet entrepreneur. Asked about this, Bamford repeated: "He is of no interest to Customs."
He said the camera had been borrowed by NZDF between November 11 and November 22, covering the period during which foreign naval vessels were moored in Waitemata Harbour.
"It is primarily looking out at sea, naval boats and seagulls - and a few people coming and going (from ships)."
The Privacy Commissioner has issued strict directions around the use of CCTV cameras.
It includes warning anyone installing them to take care "selecting and positioning cameras".
It also said those operating the cameras had to "make people aware of the CCTV" and to ensure operators were "collecting only necessary images".
Dotcom said his lawyers' inquiries to Customs had drawn a response, which stated: "A preliminary review of the footage indicates that some buildings, including what may be Mr Dotcom's apartment, were incidentally captured as part of the recording."
A spokesman for NZDF said the camera had been installed to improve security for the celebrations. Despite Customs confirming footage of surrounding apartments, the spokesman said it was "not aimed at apartments".
"All navies, including the RNZN, are obliged to consider security for their people, ships and aircraft, wherever they are in the world. The camera was covering areas where naval vessels were berthed for the INR, and was not aimed at apartments."