How often, when directed to do this or that by some government agency or official, do Americans ask this simple question?
Not often enough, I'd say. Many of us are too apathetic to care. Many are afraid to ask. Others don't know how to phrase the question in a fashion that dumb brutes like, say, an agent of the Department of Homeland Security can understand. Still others don't ask because they suspect they know the likely answer:
"Because I said so."
And the likely follow-up question:
"Are you refusing to obey a lawful command?"
For many of us, trained in government schools to be what the government considers good citizens, or worse, conditioned to fear our own government, it's difficult to ask questions of authority, no matter how petty.
So I'd like to congratulate the Mozilla Foundation, publishers of the Firefox web browser, for asking the Department of Homeland Security the hardest question: "Why?"
"Why should we de-list a browser extension which, to our knowledge, is legal?"
Or to quote Harvey Anderson, Mozilla's lawyer, in response to a demand from the Department of Homeland Security to remove a browser add-on which re-directs traffic from domains seized by the government to the original owners' new domains:
- 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?
Surprisingly, the Department has not answered the questions. I suspect they never will, because the only answers they could give would ultimately boil down to:
"Because I said so. Are you refusing to obey a lawful command?"
Except that DHS knows that answer won't fly. By asking the question through its lawyer, and having the guts to tell the world it asked the question, Mozilla has already shown it won't be intimidated.
Which leaves DHS with the response that is to cops what kryptonite is to Superman, what the word "wrong" is to Fonzie:
"Gee, I don't know why."
So hats off to Mozilla. By getting in front of DHS, and asking the questions publicly, the company shows a genuine concern for the interests of its customers, and frames the issue, correctly, as censorship by extra-legal threat, the sort of threat to which Mozilla's much larger competitors Google and Microsoft cave all too often. By asking the hardest question, in public, Mozilla will prevent DHS from playing the bottom card in its deck:
"You wouldn't want us to tell people you're a poor corporate citizen, would you?"