France considers public Wi-Fi, Tor network ban in wake of terror attacks

Let's lead everything back to encryption, then.

French officials are mulling over ways to tighten surveillance and encryption controls online in the aftermath of the devastating terrorist attacks on Paris last month.

Local newspaper Le Monde reports that the French government is proposing stringent controls on the use of public Wi-Fi networks when the country is on high alert and in a state of emergency.

Two sets of legislation are being considered according to documents seen by the publication. In one set, revolving around emergency situations, public Wi-Fi networks -- which are offered and ran by everything from public events and coffee shops -- will be banned in during a state of emergency.

According to Motherboard, "free and shared Wi-Fi connections" will need to be closed off in these situations as law enforcement finds it difficult to track individuals who take advantage of public Wi-Fi.

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The second document goes further, by proposing the outright ban of the use of the Tor network. Tor, otherwise known as "The Onion Router," is a means to access the Internet through nodes and relays which make tracking the original IP addresses of individuals very difficult.

See also: Tor Project appeals for help to carry on, expand anti-spying network

The French Ministry of Interior wants to see this network obliterated in France as a way to combat terrorism.

If the ministry has its way, the formal bid to "block or forbid communications of the Tor network" could be presented as early as January 2016. Both technical and legislative blocks could come into effect to stop people using Tor.

It will not be as easy as simply saying "no" to users, however. Blocking Tor nodes is not as easy as it sounds since this would require some kind of Internet-wide firewall or filter, similar to the Great Firewall of China.

As you can expect, a proposal of this magnitude will likely have civil rights and privacy advocates up in arms, as well as the journalists, activists and privacy-conscious users who enjoy the network but will potentially be penalized thanks to a group of fanatics.

In addition, proposing the block of public Wi-Fi in states of emergency seems rather pointless.

It is more difficult to track down individuals on public Wi-Fi as so many people are using the connection, to be sure. However, in a state of emergency, attacks are likely already known to law enforcement in these scenarios, or may already be taking place -- and terrorists who do not want to be caught are unlikely to be chatting over an insecure connection in Starbucks.

Perhaps innocents caught up in these emergency scenarios will need to use these networks to assure their friends and family that they are safe, only to find they are denied the option.

The legislation could be described as a knee-jerk reaction to terrorism or simply an excuse to tighten surveillance in the wake of the devastating Paris attacks -- but the fight between privacy versus surveillance continues to push towards the same questions: how much privacy are we willing to forfeit in the name of national security, and how much power should governments hold when it comes to spying upon the general public?

That's not to say controls should be in place to help prevent both criminal activity and terrorist attacks, especially in the wake of incidents like Paris, which resulted in the death of 130 people and hundreds more injured. It's just a matter of what is appropriate as a response.

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