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Kim Dotcom's New Encrypted Cloud: German Pirate Back Making Waves In New Zealand

In his native Germany, Mr "Dotcom" is called by his real name, Kim Schmitz; but Germans joined with the rest of the world to see the roll-out of his new outsized Internet file-sharing site.

Kim Schmitz, a.k.a. Kim Dotcom,
Kim Schmitz, a.k.a. Kim Dotcom,
Pascal Paukner

BERLIN - Of course it looked as if somebody had just declared war. Then again big, iconic performances are nothing new to Kim Dotcom. For photographs, the 39-year-old likes to pose with expensive cars and good-looking women. His mansion is supposedly the most expensive in all New Zealand. His tangles with the justice system would provide fodder for any number of Hollywood movies. And Dotcom is of course is not his real name – here in his native Germany, his real name is Schmitz.

The live-streamed press conference he gave on Sunday morning to launch his new Internet service – Mega – was perfectly staged. Performers clad as native New Zealanders danced to a song that had overtones of a battle hymn.

For the launch, Dotcom, who hails from the northern German city of Kiel, had selected a particularly symbolic date – January 19. It was on that day last year that New Zealand police raided his estate in Coatesville, arrested Dotcom on suspicion of copyright infringement, and seized a large quantity of items on the premises, shutting down one of the Internet’s biggest websites – Megaupload.

It’s been a year since the raid, and much has happened, especially on Twitter. Dotcom discovered the 140-sign medium’s virtues as a mouthpiece after his release from jail and sent hundreds of tweets. But the most important message was sent last Saturday. At 6:47 PM, Dotcom wrote: "As of this minute one year ago #Megaupload was destroyed by the U.S. government. Welcome to Mega.co.nz."

What followed was a glitch in the otherwise perfect launch – so many people tried to log on immediately after Dotcom’s tweet that the server couldn’t handle it and Mega was unavailable for hours. In the first hour alone, 100,000 were reported to have registered. A few hours later Dotcom claimed over 500,000 registered users. That is huge for a website only a few hours old.

These figures can only be understood in the context of the phenomenal success Mega’s predecessor, Megaupload, enjoyed. On peak days the site had 50 million users. The data sent via its servers sometimes accounted for 4% of worldwide Internet traffic. It was allegedly storing more than 50 petabytes – that's some 51,200 terabytes or 51,200,000,000,000 bytes. When Megaupload was taken down, Internet providers the world over registered the fact in their traffic protocols. So it’s no wonder that many are eager to check out Megaupload’s successor.

Digital encryption for the masses

There are indications that Mega may turn out to be even more successful than Megaupload. While the latter was just one of several similar concepts on the Internet, the idea behind Mega could change the way data is shared – all files are encrypted locally before they’re uploaded.

So Mega servers store files that only the user and those authorized by the user know the content of. It could be a copyrighted video, or illegally copied music. It could also be a cooking recipe. The point is that neither the Internet provider, the police, or – and this is the big legal trick – Kim Dotcom know what’s been uploaded. The idea is simple – what Dotcom doesn’t know can’t land him in jail. If piracy is going on within his servers Dotcom can claim he has no way of knowing. And thus be safe from criminal prosecution.

Mega is using what other storage suppliers like market leader Dropbox also theoretically offer, except that with them it’s up to the user to camouflage content. Mega on the other hand is making encryption available to the masses.

First tests by the American Techblogs suggest that the Dotcom team has done a good job. And upload time is fast, at least when you’re using Google Chrome. User interface is simple and clear, but there is no smart phones and tablet access as of yet. Time will tell just how secure the concept is, although Dotcom claims that the program codes are open source, and that experts are welcome to examine them for security gaps.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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