David Makarewicz, Contributing Writer
A group of anonymous developers have concocted a clever antidote to Government domain seizures. MAFIAA Fire is a Firefox add-on that automatically redirects a user to a website’s alternative domain name if the original domain was seized.
MAFIAA Fire exploits the fact that when a domain is seized, although it appears that the Government has taken control of the entire website, they have really only gained control over the domain name. The Government redirects the domain name to a Government IP address and website rather than the IP address containing the original website. When a user types in a seized domain name, such as rapgodfathers.com (seized last November), their browser is not directed to the original website, it is directed to a site containing the famous DHS/ICE seal.
If a user types in the IP address or an alternative domain name for the site, the website content would still be accessible. The problem is that users don’t know the IP address or alternative domain name, they only know the original domain name.
MAFIAA Fire solves that problem by maintaining a list of original domain names, as well as alternative domain names, so users will be directed to the alternative site if the original is seized by the Government. There is virtually nothing the Government can do to stop this because it all happens independent of the Domain Name Server it uses to seize domains. The FAQ for MAFIAA Fire explains:
While it’s true that you need DNS to get to the sites, what everyone seems to have forgotten that there is one common piece of software that EVERYONE uses to get to sites (ok, leaving out the maga geeks) : a browser.
We control the redirection _before_ (and this is important) the browser tries to connect to the DNS server. Whatever blocks, notices, threats, etc ICE or anyone else puts up at the DNS level is as worthless as the IFPI/RIAA/MPAA to mankind.
With such acidic language, it is probably wise that the developers of MAFIAA Fire remain anonymous because. They explain that they “would rather not (presently) give out our real names as the RIAA and MPAA have a history of directly intimidating people and their families as well as corrupting law enforcement, judges, politicians etc.”
A spokesperson told Torrentfreak that the developers’ primary interest is to “reverse governments attempts to censor the Internet.” He explained, “Governments around the world are either censoring for the entertainment companies never ending woes, or using that as an excuse to slowly get more control over the internet for their own agendas – and trampling over our rights in the process.”
There has been widespread debate about the Constitutional rights implicated by the seizures. We have concluded that significant First and Fifth Amendment issues arise because by seizing the domain names, the Government is taking private property, and arguably suppressed speech, without prior notice and a hearing. However, if seizure workarounds such as this become widespread, it could slightly impact our analysis of the Constitutionality of future seizures.
Part of the reason we have concluded that the seizures violate the Fifth Amendment is the fact that not only were the website operators not afforded due process through a prior notice and hearing, they were not ensured a meaningful hearing immediately after the seizure. Worse, a post-seizure hearing would have been useless in many cases because the Government had taken an audience from these website operators that it could never give back. Once users were disconnected from these sites because their browser was displaying an intimidating Government seal instead of the websites, those users were unlikely to ever return. However, if enough users begin using software such as MAFIAA Fire, those users will not be permanently driven away and a post-seizure hearing could be more effective.
Although this would slightly color our due process analysis, it is not enough to change the conclusion. There would still be no justification for this private property to be taken by the Government without a prior notice and a hearing. In fact, if most users were able to continue to access the infringing content, there might be even less justification for an immediate seizure.
On the other hand, one of the main reasons that we concluded that the domain name seizures violate the First Amendment was the fact that the seizures place a wedge between the audience and the speech on the websites. If the vast majority of users were still able to access the speech after the seizure, there would be significantly less of a First Amendment problem.
David Makarewicz is an attorney practicing Internet law in defense of websites and blogs. Visit Dave at Sites and Blogs or follow him on Twitter@sitesandblogs to keep up with Internet news affecting websites, bloggers and social media.