Irish TD attacks open-source browsers, anonymous networks

Irish TD attacks open-source browsers, anonymous networks

Summary: Despite being key pillars in protecting online freedom of speech, one Irish political party member wants open-source browsers and anonymous networks scrutinised by EU nations.


Patrick O'Donovan, a parliamentary member of Ireland's current ruling party, Fine Gael, has called for a crackdown on open-source internet browsers, which he says allows users to be anonymous and partake in illegal activities.

Examples of open-source browsers include Chromium, Konqueror, Lynx, and Mozilla Firefox. The extended support release version of Firefox is what is used, albeit slightly modified, in the anonymous The Onion Router (Tor) network.

"An online black market is operating, which protects the users' anonymity and operates across borders through the use of open-source internet browsers and payments systems, which allow users to remain anonymous. This effectively operates as an online supermarket for illegal goods such as drugs, weapons, and pornography, where it is extremely difficult to trace the identity of the buyers," he said in a statement.

While not explicitly naming it, the most commonly known black market was Silk Road — it operated on the Tor network, but was shut down in October last year by US law enforcement agencies.

"It appears the solution was temporary, as replacement browsers quickly appeared to ensure the continuance of the illegal trade," O'Donovan said.

However, no such browsers have been shut down as a result of US law enforcement actions, and, even if they had been, browsers alone cannot offer anonymity. Instead, anonymity is provided at the network layer via the Tor network.

O'Donovan later tweeted that his concerns had actually related to anonymous networks.

Even if the focus is only on anonymous networks, shutting down services like Tor will have wider implications for users that draw on it for legal means. Tor itself states that its users include families, businesses, activists, and media, as well as military and law enforcement agencies. US whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning are both thought to have used the network to communicate with journalists.

According to the Tor Project, a branch of the US Navy uses its network for intelligence gathering, and its teams used Tor while deployed in the Middle East. Furthermore, other law enforcement agencies allegedly use the network to anonymise their surveillance activities on known criminals so that they do not unnecessarily alert them to their presence via government-owned IP addresses.

Despite a shutdown of Tor placing these legal activities in jeopardy, O'Donovan is pushing for the matter to be examined by the Irish Committee on Communications, of which he is a member.

"I believe that the committee should invite relevant agencies, including the Gardaí, customs, and officials from relevant government departments, to participate."

He is also hoping to get other EU nations involved by first starting with his country's ministers.

"I also intend to raise the matter in the Dáil with both the ministers for justice and communications, with a view to seek assurances that an EU-wide response is developed to respond to the operation of open-source internet browsers which protect anonymity in order to facilitate illegal online activity."

Topics: Privacy, Government, Government UK, Networking, Open Source

Michael Lee

About Michael Lee

A Sydney, Australia-based journalist, Michael Lee covers a gamut of news in the technology space including information security, state Government initiatives, and local startups.

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  • Lynx!!!

    Oh no...caught me! Yep, that was me, booted into plain old DOS 6.22, running Lynx 386
    for DOS 2.8.3! Now what to do? Sorry, couldn't resist. ;)
  • Open source browsers, huh?

    Fortunately Mr. O'Donovan is a back bencher. And if he keeps making those kinds of speeches, he might just remain one for the remainder of his political career (one can only hope).

    At times like this, I regret the fact that parliamentary heads of state rarely veto bills, even if they have the authority to do so.
    John L. Ries
  • Fame...

    We now know who he is, he's had his 15 minutes, stick him in the backrow again.
  • An opinion typical of someone who is brainwashed and feels powerless.

    His opinion is very common one in regards to someone who feels powerless and fearful about what roles technology play in society. This is the same flavour of opinion that causes gun control, and blanket surveillance of private citizens. The fact remains, that people commit crimes, not tools.

    The only way to stop criminals, is to make something more attractive for people to follow. Crime seduces people because of the danger and profits. This seduction comes fro both sides, the criminals and the ones chasing them. If you repair social issues and educate citizens correctly, this would provide the most return for investment in reducing criminal actions. Authority personnel have been shown to share the same mentality and personality vectors as criminals. So, the people who shoot it out with thugs, or hack in the name of national security, have the same thrill and psychological rewards as the ones committing crimes in the first place. People like O'Donovan, are just the blank eyed sheep caught in the crossfire with fear and ignorance of basic human psychology and how society works.
    Kieron Seymour-Howell
  • Leave if to the techs and work on council taxes

    If he doesn't know what an open source browser means he obviously is not qualified to talk about this kind of stuff because he does not understand shit.

    Leave if to the tech experts politician cockroach.