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Mozilla Won’t Ban Add-On That Helps Users Find Sites Seized By Gov’t

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Last month, Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) asked Mozilla to remove an add-on from its online directory, saying that the MafiaaFire program was designed to help users get around seizure orders against websites accused of piracy. But Mozilla refused, and today, the non-profit’s general counsel, Harvey Anderson, explained the company’s reasoning in a post on his personal blog.

Since all the MafiaaFire program does is re-direct users from one website to another–“similar to a mail forwarding service,” writes Anderson–he was skeptical. “Our approach is to comply with valid court orders, warrants, and legal mandates, but in this case there was no such court order.” So before honoring the government’s request, Anderson asked ICE to answer several questions, including:

»  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?

ICE never answered the questions that Mozilla posed, and the MafiaaFire program continues to be available in Mozilla’s catalog, where it has been downloaded more than 6,000 times.

ICE began seizing websites last year that are alleged to be engaged in online piracy or the sale of counterfeit goods. Because the agency is working closely with entertainment and media companies to target those sites–and because it allows those companies to sidestep the normal litigation process that would be required to kick sites off the internet–the seizures have proven controversial.

However, ICE only has the power to seize domain names–not the underlying websites. Once those sites find new domain providers, they’re able to quickly move to new locations on the internet., for example–a Spanish sports-streaming site that ICE took down earlier this year–is still operating at The MafiaaFire extension for Firefox makes it easy for users to access some of the sites ICE took down, because it keeps a list of where those sites’ new domain names are, and sends users to them.

On the MafiaaFire website, a Q&A explains that the program was written by an anonymous programmer who believes that the ICE takedowns are abusive and illegal. “These anti-piracy companies [referring to RIAA and MPAA] submitted a wish list of sites that they did not like and ICE (like good lapdogs) started to seize those domains,” writes the creator of MafiaaFire. “Some of the seized domains were perfectly legal, like which only had links to other sites and which was declared to be a legal site in Spain – twice!”