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French government toys with Tor and public WiFi bans

Local French newspaper La Monde has reported that the French Government is proposing some strong measures to provide surveillance and encryption control in the aftermath of the Paris attacks last month.

The proposals that the paper claims to have viewed, would entail the banning of all public WiFi during any declared state of emergency. The reason for this is that the law enforcement find it very difficult to trace and track suspects that use public WiFi hot spots such as those in cafés, shopping malls and other public places with high footfall.

However, the government’s desire to enforce encryption control is probably more controversial, as it is a total ban – at all times, not just during a state of emergency – of The Onion Router (Tor) which is a browser that relays user’s browser commands through a network of routers which effectively hides their original IP, and makes tracing their location very complex.

If the government has its way using the Tor network could be outlawed in France as early as January 2016. However, a total ban on the public using Tor is likely to be met with fierce resistance by civil rights and privacy advocates. Even journalists and privacy conscious users that lawfully use the Tor network are likely to be outraged by any technical or legal restrictions that are implemented in order to block Tor.

However, proposing a total ban on Tor is easier said than done, as it would require technical blocks on every internet service provider, internet exchange and International gateway.

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