Crime and Punishment

WANTED: U.S. Extradition Requests Create New Breed of Internet Hero

Why are the new outlaws all geeks?
395px kim schmitz WANTED: U.S. Extradition Requests Create New Breed of Internet Hero

Mr. Dotcom. (commons.wikimedia.orgAndreas_Bohnenstengel)

When did digital crimes get so badass? Accused criminals Kim Dotcom, Richard O’Dwyer and Julian Assange all built their empires on the web, and the U.S. government wants them to fly to American soil and pay the price. Which is funny, because traditionally, most extraditions to the U.S. were related to narcotics.

One side effect of being in American crosshairs? Insane popularity–almost premature martyrship–on the Internet. The people love Mr. Dotcom’s outsized personality, Mr. O’Dwyer’s precociousness, and Mr. Assange’s rebelliousness. While we usually celebrate Internet entrepreneurs for giving us things like Facebook and Netflix, these three have made it to the next level by appealing to our sense of justice and our fondness for free music.

Every new development lends credence to the Internet outlaws. Mr. Dotcom seems to be winning his case in New Zealand, but the government there has declined to investigate accusations that the U.S. flubbed its raid of the Dotcom mansion. Mr. O’Dwyer netted the endorsement of the normally apolitical Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales (who is not wanted by any governments at the moment) and a petition on his behalf has garnered 200,000 signatures.

The case of Mr. Assange, the “cyberpunk revolutionary” who the U.S. is reportedly seeking to extradite for prosecution under the Espionage Act, is a bit stickier. Accusations of rape and assault┬áin Sweden coupled with a stunt at the Ecuadorian embassy and his stiff performance as an anchor on Russia Today have failed to earn him many fans. However, his fan base remains strong. “Free Julian” T-shirt, anyone?

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com