The UK Parliament has issued a report that argues that the banning of anonymity systems like the Tor network is “not an acceptable policy option.”
The document titled, “The dark net and online anonymity,” published by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, also suggested that there would be a number of technical challenges to combatting anonymity software.
The report is in stark contrast to comments made by Prime Minister David Cameron back in January, which suggested that the Conservative party were looking to ban encrypted messages in the UK.
An oft-quoted criticism of anonymity networks like Tor is that they are used for criminal activities like buying drugs from online black markets such as Silk Road or sharing indecent images of children.
However, the parliamentary report suggests that anonymity networks are not as dominated by criminal activity as often claimed.
“The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP) of the UK National Crime Agency says that THS (Tor Hidden Services) play only a minor role in the online viewing and distribution of indecent images of children,” the report reads. “In 2013, the Internet Watch Foundation took action on 36 THS for containing such material, compared to 1,624 domains on the open web. According to CEOP, Tor is less popular among offenders because it decreases the speed at which images can be downloaded.”
The document also lists a number of non-criminal uses of Tor including circumventing censorship, in countries like China for example, anonymous whistleblowing and activism and the undercover detection of criminals.
The report makes it clear that the best way of addressing criminal activity taking place on anonymous networks is to work with projects like Tor, rather than banning them. While the number of individuals using anonymity platforms is currently small, it could be set to increase as surveillance fears continue to grow. Mozilla, for example, recently announced a collobarative project with Tor, which looks to incorporate the network into its Firefox web browser.