[bestbits] Oped: France says it won’t ban Tor, but the threat to anonymity is still real

Deji Olukotun deji at accessnow.org
Thu Dec 10 13:29:21 EST 2015

Hi to All,

Apologies for cross-posting. Kindly have a look at our oped on Tor and
human rights. We'd appreciate your help in sharing the article widely.


France says it won’t ban Tor, but the threat to anonymity is still real
Brett Solomon <http://www.dailydot.com/authors/brett-solomon/> Gustaf
Bjorksten <http://www.dailydot.com/authors/gustaf-bjorksten/>
Dec 10, 2015, 11:42am CT

The French newspaper *Le Monde *received leaked documents
last week indicating that the Interior Ministry recommended banning the use
of Tor <http://www.dailydot.com/tags/tor/> to help fight terrorism. This is
a reactionary and misguided response that would undermine the security of
vulnerable people not only in France but all over the world. Worse, it’s
the latest in a series of encroachments on privacy in France, which passed four
new pieces of legislation
to fight terrorism in the past two years.

On Wednesday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls seemed to reassure
Internet users by stating on television
<http://www.dailydot.com/politics/france-tor-wifi-pm-no-ban/> that the
banning of Tor was not part of “the expected path” for the government (“*pas
une piste envisagée*”). This is a welcome gesture, but not a definitive
commitment. Until we see the final text of the bill proposed by the
Interior Ministry, everything is still on the table.

It’s time to set the record straight on why banning Tor is a terrible idea
for human rights and privacy.

Tor is a free and open network
<https://www.torproject.org/about/overview.html.en> of volunteer-operated
servers that allows people to improve their privacy and security on the
Internet. Tor anonymizes internet traffic by sending data along a path with
random checkpoints. At each checkpoint, which Tor calls “relays,” the data
takes a new random path. Each relay only knows which relay came immediately
before it, and no relay can trace the entire path of data from start to
finish. In countries where Tor is blocked, there are special, unpublished
relays known as “bridges” that allow users access to Tor so that they can
reach the free internet. What you’re uploading and downloading with Tor is
encrypted, and the website you’re visiting is anonymized.

Tor and other anonymizing technologies are mainstays of human rights in the
digital age. Tor is used by journalists to conduct research, communicate
with sources, and to report anonymously. At Access Now, we run
Tor exit relays to provide capacity to the Tor network and we recommend Tor
in much of the work we do on our 24-hour Digital Security Helpline. We’ve
seen the tremendous positive impact Tor can have for users at risk such as
LGBTQ advocates operating in hostile environments, human rights lawyers
researching government abuse, religious and ethnic minorities communicating
in conflict zones, and journalists targeted by online harassment.

More importantly, Tor affects all of us. Anonymity is essential for free
expression. As United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression
David Kaye described in a landmark report
anonymity deserves strong protection because it enables individuals to
exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital
age. “States should not restrict encryption and anonymity,” Kaye clearly

We’re also concerned about how the technical measures that might be
required to ban Tor would affect human rights. What did the Interior
Ministry in France have in mind when they proposed this? French authorities
might need to spy on every piece of citizen communication on the French
network to stop Tor, eerily reminiscent of the Great Firewall of China
<http://www.greatfirewallofchina.org/>. Or law enforcement might rely on a
system of informants, such as internet service providers, to rat out users
-- harming the trust that enables societies to thrive in the face of real
threats. We’ve already seen abuses of the new surveillance powers in France
during the climate talks when law enforcement confined climate activists to
their homes

We can’t allow terrorist attacks
<http://www.dailydot.com/tags/paris-attack/> to empower officials to ram
through knee-jerk, poorly considered measures that trample upon human

In the United States, politicians are also making increasingly brazen
remarks as they jockey for position on the presidential campaign trail.
Both Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton -- once a proponent
of internet freedom -- and Republican candidate Donald Trump have played
down concerns about free expression
on the internet and have put forth more and more outlandish ways of
fighting Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and other threats. Their
willingness to throw human rights under the bus is deeply alarming.

If a nation like France were to ban Tor, there is little to stop repressive
regimes from quickly following suit. We need to stand together to support
the Tor network in the face of this latest attack.

*Brett Solomon is the executive director of Access Now (**accessnow.org*
<https://accessnow.org/>*), an organization that defends and extends the
digital rights of users at risk around the world. Gustaf Bjorksten is chief
technologist of Access Now. Click here to donate to the **Tor Project*
<http://torproject.org/>*, the non-profit organization that supports Tor,
and follow us **on Twitter* <http://twitter.com/accessnow>* or **on
Facebook* <http://facebook.com/accessnow>*.*

Deji Olukotun
Senior Global Advocacy Manager
Access Now | accessnow.org

tel: +1 415-935-4572 | @dejiridoo
PGP: 0x6012CDA8
Fingerprint: 3AEE 4194 F70E C806 A810 857A 6AD5 8F48 6012 CDA8

*Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter on digital rights, the Access
Express: accessnow.org/express <https://accessnow.org/express>*
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