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Mozilla Asks DHS to Justify Killing Firefox Add-on that Routes Around Seized Domains

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, May 6 2011

Firefox logo

The battle over U.S. law enforcement's domain name seizures has moved onto the browser plug-in front.

Mozilla, the open-source development organization that supports the development of the Firefox browser, is pushing back on what it says was a call from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to pull down a third-party browser add-on that redirects Internet users from domain names seized by federal law enforcement to websites still up and running.

The bit of code at the heart of the tussle is called MafiaaFire Redirector. "ICE taketh away," reads the FAQs on the add-on, "we giveth back!" Here, ICE refers to DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division, the branch of the department that has been lately seizing the domain names of websites that, it says, support copyright infringement or other illegal activities. MafiaaFire works by maintaining a list of the new addresses seized sites have moved to, and automagically pushing users to those new locations. It's a technique that makes sense because of the limits of domain name seizure as an enforcement technique. Taking down a domain name isn't like closing a physical store and claiming its inventory. It's more like pulling down a storefront sign in the hopes that people won't know where to go. MafiaaFire points people to where the store still exists.

It's easy to see why the Department of Homeland Security wouldn't be in love with MafiaaFire. But Mozilla's Harvey Anderson writes in a blog post yesterday that it's going to take more than DHS's displeasure to get the organization to get rid of the add-on. What's the legal justification for banning the code?, asks Mozilla. "Have any courts determined that the Mafiaafire add-on is unlawful or illegal in any way? If so, on what basis?" Anderson suggests that other Internet intermediaries should be thinking long and hard about how they comply with law enforcement requests of this nature. "Longterm," he writes, "the challenge is to find better mechanisms that provide both real due process and transparency without infringing upon developer and user freedoms traditionally associated with the Internet."

DHS hasn't yet responded, writes Anderson. Congress is currently considering a bill called COICA, for the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, that would strengthen law enforcement's hand when it comes to going after copyright violators at the domain name layer of the Internet.

(FYI -- Mitchell Baker, Mozilla's executive director, will be speaking at PdF '11.)