To sum up the ruling: the warrants were "general warrants, and as such, are invalid. Because the police relied on invalid warrants, "The search and seizure was therefore illegal. And the data should not have been imaged wholesale by the FBI without Dotcom's consent, which the judge found no evidence of.

New Zealand's government took one last stab at keeping Judge Winkelmann away from the whole issue of the warrant's validity and argued that local courts should not review the warrant; only the trial court—in this case, the Virginia District Court in the US—had that power. Winkelmann was having no truck with this, for reasons much like those surrounding data minimization.

"It would not be consistent with the object of promoting the rule of law internationally, were the domestic courts to refuse to review the lawfulness of warrants" obtained in this manner, she noted.

"If having conducted a review, it is determined that there was a fundamental defect in the warrant, it is difficult to see why a Court should decline to declare as much, even where trial processes are engaged in another jurisdiction.”
What comes next

Winkelmann is proceeding cautiously, given the complexity of the case. Today's ruling does make clear both that the warrants were illegal and that removing the cloned data to the US was "unlawful."

But how to proceed? The FBI already has the data it wants; is Winkelmann going to ask US law enforcement to return all cloned copies to New Zealand, as Dotcom's lawyers would like? Will she set up a New Zealand-based process to vet all the data and only then release relevant information to the US?

Tricky questions, and all potentially expensive. Winkelmann will hear further arguments on how to proceed on July 4. Until then, though, Dotcom can celebrate an important early victory in the case.