Wednesday, December 9, 2015

France and Tor

After the recent attacks in Paris, it is widely agreed upon that officials need to make some type of changes to increase the security of their people. Well, some documents were leaked that revealed potential plans that France has to increase security. The first of these proposals is a ban on public Wi-Fi during a state of emergency. The second is taking action to block Tor, the encrypted web browser.
Okay, so France allegedly wants to ban public and shared Wi-Fi while the country is in a state of emergency. The reason that they are doing this, according to the article on arstechnica, is that it is challenging for police and other security officials to track people on these types of networks.
The second proposal, the one that would ban Tor, is one that is much more radical. They want to ban the encrypted web browser in an effort to reduce the amount of crime that happens on the dark web, which must be accessed through Tor. As the article mentions, it would be very difficult for France to track who is using it. The article also likens the banning of Tor to the Great Firewall of China. While I do not believe that the French proposal is this strict, I can understand why the author made this reference.
This is important to the world, not just the people in France. This is a huge step in the still young debate on internet freedom. France, if they decide to prohibit Tor, will be making it illegal to use a service that has both good and bad consequences. There is of course, a large amount of crime that takes place over the dark web. It is a known fact that many illegal transactions involving drugs, weapons, other paraphernalia, and even services such as hit men, happen every day using Tor. However, there are also perfectly legal activities that take place over the browser. There are people who use Tor simply because they value their privacy and want to avoid companies collecting their information and tracking them. I can totally understand this use case. There are even people who buy illegal substances for good reasons on Tor, such as the guy who could only afford black market inhalers for his wife. He turned to Tor and it was ultimately successful for him. By stripping the people of this tool, I do believe that France would be hurting many people who do not deserve to have this privilege taken away. Also, if France takes this action, it would make it much easier for other countries, specifically ones that are geographically and socially similar to France (i.e. England and Germany) to take similar actions to restrict the internet usage of their people. I think this liberal shift towards a locked down internet is a slippery slope.

I believe that it is a bad move for France to take either one of these actions. Traffic over a public network would not be terribly hard to keep track of. Any terrorist with serious intent would not use a public network in an unencrypted fashion. So, taking away this privilege from the 99.9% of people who do not have malicious intent simply isn’t fair because the people who do want to do harm will still be able to do it without public Wi-Fi. And in response to the proposed ban on Tor, this is also silly. I feel the same way about this as I do about gun control. Making it illegal will not stop the criminals from committing crimes. It will simply force them to find a way around the ban, and then continue to commit crimes all while taking away a positive privilege from people who deserve it. So, I guess I feel that these propositions will ultimately be ineffective and do more harm than good. 

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