Still reeling from last month’s Paris terror attacks, French authorities are proposing new cyber laws that would ban Tor, the free software that allows for anonymous internet communication. The laws deal with the current state of emergency which is still in place in Paris, as well as overall counter-terrorism.
One of the proposed laws will forbid free and shared wi-fi connections during a state of emergency. Investigators are saying that it is difficult to track individuals who use public wi-fi networks.
The proposed laws also seek “to block or forbid communications of the Tor network.” Tor is a network of servers maintained by volunteers, which routes a user’s traffic through several different points, hiding the original IP address.
Tor is very popular for those with genuine need for protecting their privacy online, such as whistleblowers and journalists, but it is also unfortunately used by cyber criminals, terrorists and pedophiles.
It came to general public notice after the 2013 Snowden revelations about mass surveillance programs. Tor was initially developed for the U.S. Navy. The non-profit that maintains the Tor software, The Tor Project, has not responded to requests for comment.
French law enforcement would like legislative measures and technological ones to control or ban Tor, but it is not clear what these technical measure are. China actively blocks first relays that a Tor user’s computer connects to and are publicly listed.
However, Tor is also able to use non-public entry nodes, called “bridges”, and these are what someone uses to connect to Tor from a country like China which blacklists the network.
French cyber freedom activists agree that there needs to be someway of restricting terrorists using the internet, but say that banning or restricting the use of Tor will increase cyber surveillance and threaten free speech.
The French Directorate of Civil Liberties and Legal Affairs (DLPAJ) questions whether the proposed legislation could be unconstitutional.