Homeland Security’s ICE unit is not happy with a Firefox add-on that allows the public to circumvent the domains seizures carried out during the past several months. In an attempt to correct this ‘vulnerability’ in their anti-piracy strategy, ICE have asked Mozilla to pull the add-on from their site. Unfortunately for them Mozilla denied the request, arguing that this type of censorship may threaten the open Internet.
Last month we were the first to draw attention to a nifty Firefox add-on called “MAFIAA Fire.”
The add-on maintains a list of all the domains that ICE (hence the antidote, ‘fire’) has seized and redirects their users to an alternative domain if the sites in question have set one up. The developers told us that they coded it to demonstrate the futility of the domain seizures, which they find objectionable.
Homeland Security’s ICE unit got wind of the add-on and almost immediately took action to have it taken offline. Although the add-on can be hosted anywhere, they asked Mozilla to remove it from their repository just a few days after it first appeared there.
“Recently the US Department of Homeland Security contacted Mozilla and requested that we remove the Mafiaa Fire add-on,” explained Mozilla General Counsel and Vice President of Business Affairs Harvey Anderson. “The ICE Homeland Security Investigations unit alleged that the add-on circumvented a seizure order DHS had obtained against a number of domain names.”
However, where ICE might have expected a swift take down from Mozilla, the legal and business affairs department of the tech company was not planning to honor the request so easily.
“Our approach is to comply with valid court orders, warrants, and legal mandates, but in this case there was no such court order,” Anderson explains.
According to Anderson complying with the request without any additional information would threaten open Internet principles. So, instead of taking the add-on offline they replied to ICE with a set of 11 well-crafted questions.
Interestingly enough, Mozilla never heard from ICE again.
We can only guess how often U.S. authorities try similar mild censorship requests, but if we look at all the companies and services that kicked out Wikileaks last year we have to assume that it’s not the first time. Only a few dare to stand up to such requests, which is a worrying situation.
“One of the fundamental issues here is under what conditions do intermediaries accede to government requests that have a censorship effect and which may threaten the open Internet,” says Anderson.
“Longterm, 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,” he adds.
We got in touch with one of the MAFIAA Fire developers, who told us that ICE never contacted them with a takedown request. And although the add-on would still be available on their own website if Mozilla pulled it, he was happy that they chose to put up a fight.
“Hats off to Mozilla for sticking up to them, at first we weren’t sure if Mozilla would even host it due to its controversial nature, but they truly backed up their open source supporting words with actions,” the developer told us.
Indeed, Mozilla deserves to be applauded here for judging ICE’s request by its content, and not by the envelope in which it was sent.
Meanwhile, the MAFIAA Fire team has published a Chrome version of the add-on today. Both add-ons are Open Source and available on the official website, which also has a mirror here to ensure continuity.
Looks like ICE’s request to Mozilla just backFIREd…