Should Mozilla comply with the government's request to remove the MafiaaFire add-on from Firefox?
updated 5/6/2011 3:42:37 PM ET 2011-05-06T19:42:37

A censorship fight is brewing between Mozilla Firefox and the U.S. government over the government's request that Firefox remove a feature from its Web browser that allows users to access websites seized and taken offline by the feds.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), requested Mozilla disable the MafiaaFire Redirector add-on last month. The DHS alleges that MafiaaFire circumvents a seizure order the DHS obtained to take offline websites that illegally distribute counterfeit and/or copy written content.

Mozilla, however, is standing strong against the DHS, and says that it will not take down the uncensoring feature from Firefox without a direct court order.

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

Rather than succumbing to the DHS request, Mozilla, in an April 19 email, pressed for detailed legal precedent as to why it should remove MafiaaFire.

In the email, posted on the social publishing site Scribd, Mozilla asked the DHS: "Have any courts determined that is unlawful or illegal in any way? If so, on what basis? (Please provide any relevant rulings)."

Mozilla also asked, "Is Mozilla legally obligated to disable the add-on or is this request based on other reasons?"

The DHS in its request did not specify exactly how Mozilla should remove the MafiaaFire add-on.

While Mozilla's battle focuses on MafiaaFire, there is a larger issue of Internet censorship at stake. How this fight plays out could have a serious effect on the government's role and ability to interfere with online content.

"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," Anderson said.

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