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    After Paris Attacks, French Cops Want to Block Tor and Forbid Free Wi-Fi

    Written by

    Joseph Cox


    Correction: The initial headline and copy of this article suggested that the proposals to block Tor and control free wifi were already part of a proposed law. These are in fact points that the French police and gendarmes would like to see included in the bill, according to the document seen by Le Monde. The headline and copy have been updated to clarify this; we apologise for the error.

    After the recent Paris terror attacks, French law enforcement wants to have several powers added to a proposed law, including the move to forbid and block the use of the Tor anonymity network, according to an internal document from the Ministry of Interior seen by French newspaper Le Monde.

    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 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.

    Tor is a network of servers maintained by volunteers, which route a user's traffic through several different points, obfuscating their original, and perhaps identifying, IP address. At first a project from the US Navy, and now attempting to diversify its funding, Tor has become more popular recently, especially after the 2013 Snowden revelations around various mass surveillance programs.

    It is used by journalists, whistleblowers and people who just want to protect their privacy online, as well as terrorists, pedophiles, and cybercriminals.

    The internal document reviewed by Le Monde suggests that French law enforcement would like legislative measures as well as technological ones against Tor.

    The Tor Project, the non-profit that maintains the Tor software, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    Even if it was the French government's intention to block the use of Tor within its borders, it is not totally clear how this would be done, but other countries have attempted to do so.

    China actively blocks connections to known Tor entry nodes. These are the first relays that a Tor user's computer connects to, and are publicly listed. Tor can also use non-public entry nodes, called “bridges,” and these are typically effective at allowing someone to connect to Tor from a country that blacklists the network. (China's firewall can sometimes detect these as well, by analyzing the internet traffic flowing through the country.)

    So, if the French really wanted to block Tor, they might have to consider a model similar to the Chinese regime's. Naturally, that might be worrying for anyone that cares about free-speech, increasing surveillance, or, say, democracy.

    Indeed, in the document the French Directorate of Civil Liberties and Legal Affairs (DLPAJ) questions whether some of the moves in the proposed legislation, including the attempt to block or forbid Tor, could be unconstitutional.

    As for how the French government might enforce a legal ban on the use of Tor, it may be possible for an internet service provider to tell when one of its customers is using the anonymity network (although the ISP cannot see what sites the user is visiting.)

    In the continuing debate around privacy and security, knee-jerk reactions to encryption and other technologies are becoming a common sight. While the US has arguably been the epicentre for this anti-crypto dialogue in recent months, the debate is going to get more ferocious in Europe too.

    Pascale Mueller contributed reporting.