On sunday, the motherboard intially reported that, in the wake of the Paris atrocities of November 13th, the French Government was proposing to ban Tor and free WiFi. As it turns out, this is not strictly accurate. The report was later corrected – thus:
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.
Nevertheless, the actual story is still worrying. Governments of all shades seem to react badly when they feel that they must be seen to “do something”. We, in the UK, have already seen how the desire to “do something” results in unfortunate over reaction and ill-thought proposals for legislation. So it is sad to see the French (for whom I have much admiration) apparently reacting to Paris by opting to clamp down on civil liberties. I’d like to think that the reality is not as bad as the initial report suggested though. Certainly the motherboard post now makes clear that:
French law enforcement wants to have (my emphasis) 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.
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.
Noting that China actively blocks connections to Tor, the article continues:
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.
Let’s just hope that sense prevails and Western democracies do not react to terrorism in a way which reduces the very freedoms we cherish so much.