After terrorists killed 130 people in Paris last month, it’s no surprise to see law enforcement looking to find “easy wins” to curb future attacks.
But a report from Motherboard (based upon the original French-language report about an internal document from the Ministry of Interior) leaves me feeling that French police are going about it the wrong way.
That document talks about two proposed pieces of legislation, one around the state of emergency, and the other concerning counter-terrorism.
Regarding the former, French law enforcement wish to “Forbid free and shared wi-fi connections” during a state of emergency. This comes from a police opinion included in the document: the reason being that it is apparently difficult to track individuals who use public wi-fi networks.
As for the latter, law enforcement would like “to block or forbid communications of the Tor network.” The legislation, according to Le Monde, could be presented as early as January 2016.
So much for the famous French cry of “Liberté, égalité, fraternité!“, eh?
Quite how free and shared Wi-Fi would be banned during a “state of emergency” is unclear. How would such a ban be enforced? Consider, for instance, that a smartphone can be turned into a Wi-Fi access point with relative ease, or the number of French bistros that may offer Wi-Fi to patrons alongside their coffee.
Even if businesses and individuals were ordered to no longer offer Wi-Fi without a password to the public, what’s to stop them setting the Wi-Fi password to be exactly the same as the hotspot’s SSID? In short, anyone who can see your Wi-Fi network exists can also tell what its password is.
And, of course, the proposal ignores the belief that the terrorists in Paris communicated with each other via bog-standard SMS text message.
Meanwhile, if France were to resort to technological means to block the Tor anonymity network it would be putting itself in an exclusive club of countries consisting of itself and China. Russia would reportedly quite like to block Tor, but doesn’t appear to have found a way to manage it yet.
And, it shouldn’t be forgotten, Tor is not just used by criminals. Millions of people use the Tor anonymity network for perfectly legitimate purposes, because they wish to keep their personal and business activities confidential and private, and resent third parties from discovering their location or browsing habits.
What if France wanted to just “forbid” the usage of Tor rather than block it? Well, good luck getting terrorists to worry very much about breaking the law…
The truth is that technologies like Tor and encryption are tools for freedom. Freedom to express yourself. Freedom to be private.
You know the terrorists have won if it means you start banning public Wi-Fi and blocking Tor.
(PS. There’s no word yet on any ban on the PlayStation 4.)