Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

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.)

News Briefs

RSS Feed today >

First POST: Scary Monsters

Facebook opens up about its experiments on tweaking voting behavior; breaking news in the FCC net neutrality battle; getting hard data on civic tech's impact on political efficacy; and much, much more. GO

thursday >

First POST: System-Gaming

Why techies interested in political reform are facing challenges; the latest data on Democratic voter contacts in 2014; Hungary's anti-Internet tax demonstrations are getting huge; and much, much more. GO

wednesday >

First POST: Gimme Shelter

The link between intimate partner violence and surveillance tech; the operational security set-up that connected Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden; how Senate Dems are counting on tech to hold their majority; and much, much more. GO

tuesday >

First POST: Tribes

Edward Snowden on the Internet's impact on political polarization; trying to discern Hillary Clinton's position on NSA reform; why Microsoft is bullish on civic tech; and much, much more GO

monday >

First POST: Inventions

How voter data-sharing among GOP heavyweights is still lagging; why Facebook's News Feed scares news publishers; Google's ties to the State Department; and much, much more. GO

More