Mozilla Defies DHS Internet Censorship Request

Monday, May 09, 2011

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Mozilla, the non-profit company behind the Firefox Web browser, has initially refused a Department of Homeland Security request to remove a third-party tool that allows users to circumvent government URL blocking efforts.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of DHS, has seized dozens of domains in an effort to crack down on piracy and copyright infringement, blocking access to the sanctioned websites via the most common domain URL.

The Firefox plugin, known as MafiaaFire, is an automatic redirection tool that matches seized domain names with alternate URLs, thus rendering the government's domain blocking efforts ineffective.

"Our approach is to comply with valid court orders, warrants, and legal mandates, but in this case there was no such court order," wrote Mozilla's legal counsel Harvey Anderson.

In an effort to better understand the DHS position on the removal of the MafiaaFire tool, Mozilla's Anderson subsequently sent the following email to DHS officials asking for legal clarification regarding the request:

April 19, 2011 email from Mozilla to US Department of Homeland Security Special Agent

To help us evaluate the Department of Homeland Security's request to take-down/remove the MAFIAAfire.com add-on from Mozilla's websites, can you please providethe following additional information:

1. Have any courts determined that MAFIAAfire.com is unlawful or illegal inany way? If so, on what basis? (Please provide any relevant rulings)

2. Have any courts determined that the seized domains related to MAFIAAfire.com are unlawful, illegal or liable for infringement in any way? (please provide relevant rulings)

3. Is Mozilla legally obligated to disable the add-on or is this request based on other reasons? If other reasons, can you please specify.

4. Has DHS, or any copyright owners involved in this matter, taken any legal action against MAFIAAfire.com or the seized domains, including DMCA requests?

5. What protections are in place for MAFIAAfire.com or the seized domain owners if eventually a court decides they were not unlawful?

6. Can you please provide copies of any briefs that accompanied the affidavit considered by the court that issued the relevant seizure orders?

7. Can you please provide a copy of the relevant seizure order upon which your request to Mozilla to take down MAFIAAfire.com is based?

8. Please identify exactly what the infringements by the owners of the domains consisted of, with reference to the substantive standards of Section 106 andto any case law establishing that the actions of the seized domain owners constituted civil or criminal copyright infringement.

9. Did any copyright owners furnish affidavits in connection with the domain seizures? Had any copyright owners served DMCA takedown notices on the seizeddomains or MAFIAAfire.com? (if so please provide us with a copy)

10. Has the Government furnished the domain owners with formal notice of the seizures, triggering the time period for a response by the owners? If so, when,and have there been any responses yet by owners?11. Has the Government communicated its concerns directly with MAFIAAfire.com?If so, what response, if any, did MAFIAAfire.com make?

No court has yet ruled that the MafiaaFire tool performs an illicit service, and until DHS can demonstrate that the redirects violate the law, Mozilla is unwilling to comply with the request to remove the tool.

DHS will be hard pressed to enforce the request to discontinue offering the MafiaaFire redirects unless Congress enacts legislation that makes the practice illegal, and even then there likely would be a challenge to such a prohibition on constitutional grounds.

"Whether the add-on is unlawful, or whether any speech is unlawful, is for the courts to determine, not for DHS to determine. Nobody from DHS should be going around trying to get speech removed from the Internet before a court decides," said Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU.

Source:  http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20060636-281.html

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