DHS takes a whack at the Mozilla Foundation

Harvey Anderson, a Mozilla employee in charge of legal and business affairs, recently blogged about a request by the Department of Homeland Security to take down the MafiaaFire add-on. The apparent issue DHS has with the plug-in is that it redirects the users from one domain to another automatically, which is usually not a big deal. Except that in this case, it’s a tool to circumvent domain name seizures.

[Mozilla’s] approach is to comply with valid court orders, warrants, and legal mandates, but in this case there was no such court order.  Thus, to evaluate Homeland Security’s request, we asked them several questions similar to those below to understand the legal justification:

  • Have any courts determined that the Mafiaafire add-on is unlawful or illegal in any way? If so, on what basis? (Please provide any relevant rulings)
  • Is Mozilla legally obligated to disable the add-on or is this request based on other reasons? If other reasons, can you please specify.
  • Can you please provide a copy of the relevant seizure order upon which your request to Mozilla to take down the Mafiaafire add-on is based?

The fact that DHS is requesting takedowns from third parties as far detached as Mozilla shows just how much the (losing) legal battle to stop copyright infringement has gotten out of hand. I’m glad we have people willing to step up and call the bluff of the DHS. Last I checked, there is nothing illegal about circumventing the seizure of a domain name, and in essence all MafiaaFire does is say “oh, here’s a request for seizedexampledomain.com, let’s redirect it to thenewdomaintheyjustregistered.net.” (In some cases, maybe it’s just the old or a new IP address bound to the old name; I haven’t really looked at how this plugin works.)

I see no reason why the list of these domains, and the information how to get to the same site despite the domain being hijacked, is protected speech. MafiaaFire could just as easily be used by Chinese citizens to circumvent government blocking. It’s an anti-censorship tool, and I take a dim view of those who attempt to censor the publishers of an anti-censorship tool.

I can accept that the DHS doesn’t like being shown up in such a fashion. But telling Mozilla to take down this plugin won’t make it go away. It’s out there, and the plugin authors will undoubtedly find somewhere else to post it.