The UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) has highlighted the dangers posed by Tor and other darknets – but warned that there's not much government or law enforcement can do to stop or ban them.
In a four-page document, entitled “The darknet and online anonymity”, published yesterday the body provides a useful explaination of Tor, noting its use by around 2.5 million daily users including journalists, activists and criminals , as well as its development by US Naval Research Laboratory some twenty years ago. It also highlights recent law enforcement operations, such as Operation Onymous and the Silk Road takedown, to identify people on the dark web.
The document goes onto explain how law enforcement agencies (LEAs) are using Tor to hide their own activities and while indicating that law enforcement need to de-anonymise Tor users, it concludes that banning or blocking the anonymising network would not be wise; POST says that Britons would not accept it, while Tor itself could simply grow stronger.
A possible alternative – suggests POST – is for UK authorities to work more closely with Tor so that LEAs can get access to criminals when necessary, something POST says that Tor itself is keen to pursue.
“Identifying criminals using Tor is time consuming and it requires a high degree of skill,” reads the document. “LEAs are unable to disclose full details while an operation is still on-going, which fuels speculation over the extent to which such operations involve surveillance of non-criminal Tor users. Proponents of privacy protection have voiced concerns that uncertainty over the extent of online surveillance could itself affect the public's online behaviour. They say there is a need for legislation that clarifies the legal pathways LEAs can take to identify internet users. They also emphasise the importance of privacy considerations being factored into the authorisation, on-going scrutiny and oversight of such investigations.”
POSTnotes have no official status but are designed to “anticipate policy implications for parliamentarians” and “help parliamentarians examine science and technology issues effectively.”