Homeland Insecurity, At It Again:

The Dep’t of Homeland Security is indeed at it again. I’ve blogged about their campaign on behalf of US copyright holders to “seize” the domain names of websites (irrespective of the actual location of the site, provided that it is registered in one of the databases of a US domain name registrar or registry). It’s a really troubling new phenomenon — even putting aside how downright stupid, and outrageous, it is that DHS, which even in light of last week’s developments obviously has other important work that it should be attending to, is getting into the copyright-enforcement game.

But it appears to be getting worse. Now, they’re going after software providers. As reported by Nate Anderson at arstechnica, DHS recently approached the folks at Mozilla and “requested” that they remove/disable a popular Mozilla add-on, “MafiaaFire.” MafiaaFire is a (pretty simple) domain name redirector; if the website operating at wereallydon’tlikeIPlawyers.com moves to wewerejustkidding.org, a user with the MafiaaFire add-on who types “http://wereallydontlikeIPlawyers.com” into his/her browser window is automatically redirected to wewerejustkidding.org.

You can see what they’re unhappy about, I suppose; sites that have had their domain names “seized” have managed to get up and running in a matter of hours after the “seizure” by switching over to new domain names, and things like MafiaaFire make it easier for users to find the new site.

But screwdrivers, pencils, automobiles, bunsen burners, Frisbees, and many, many things are used by Bad Guys to do their Evil Deeds; that does not give the government the right to restrict the availability of those items (absent some specific statutory basis for doing so). It’s conventionally referred to as “the Rule of Law.” DHS has absolutely no legal authority (of which I aware, at any rate) to order Mozilla to take this action with respect to a lawfully-made and lawfully-distributed product that has, obviously, any number of perfectly legitimate uses, and their “request” is an outrageous end run around their legal authority. It pisses the hell out of me that they can get away with stuff like this (and that I’m paying them to do it, as a taxpayer).

Mozilla, thankfully, has not complied (this according to Harvey Anderson, a Mozilla lawyer); Mozilla sent DHS a set of pretty reasonable questions about what they were doing (to which DHS has not responded), viz.:

  • 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?
  • We’ll see if DHS responds. My bet is they won’t. They should really be ashamed of themselves.

    [Thanks to Andrew Metcalf for the pointer]