According to French newspaper Le Monde, authorities in Paris are considering banning the use of TOR, a service that anonymises users on the internet. It would be one of a range of measures passed in response to last month’s terror attacks, and also a difficult-to-enforce attack on internet privacy.
Le Monde obtained an internal document laying out two proposed changes to be brought before France’s parliament. The first addresses the use of “shared or open” Wi-Fi networks during a state of emergency: according to the police, suspects can use public Wi-Fi networks to communicate without being tracked down, so the legislation would shut down public Wi-Fi hotspots during a state of emergency (like the one established after the attacks in Paris).
The second measure would propose “to block or forbid communications of the Tor network”, and not just during a state of emergency. TOR (the onion router) is a volunteer-run anonymising network, which bounces user’s data requests around the globe, making it very difficult (but not impossible!) to find out who’s behind the computer screen.
It’s the go-to method for anyone wanting to hide on the internet: infamous because of its central role in online drug markets and crime rings, but also a crucial tool for whistleblowers and journalists around the world.
There’s no easy way to cut off an entire country from TOR. China has tried to shut it down by blocking the access nodes a user connects through, but work-arounds have appeared in short order. More effective is likely to be a legislative approach: by working with ISPs, the French government could probably find people connecting to the TOR network and fine them.
The measures are far from law yet: Le Monde says that they won’t be presented to parliament until next year, and even then, it will take time to vote and enact. Even by considering the idea, though, the French government has joined the latest round of blaming technology for enabling terrorist attacks.
Banning TOR would be similar to back-dooring encryption, something that government and political leaders have repeatedly called for stateside. It would probably make the job of law enforcement easier, but at the same time weaken online security and privacy for the rest of us.