I am a bit disappointed in France. The nation has, of course, coped gallantly with the aftermath of its most recent crisis, especially in the light of its decision to continue admitting Syrian refugees by their tens of thousands. That is not what I am disappointed in.
Rather, there is the recent and very depressing news that France may ban the anonymous TOR network and public Wi-Fi in the wake of its national tragedy.
On the one hand, this shouldn’t really come as a shock. The major EU nations have always had this peculiar kind of backasswardness when it comes to things internet. You have the recent example of the EU commissioner trying to put in a proposal which would effectively ban hyperlinks. Before that, you have Britain trying to build a magical internet infrastructure that would automatically filter pornography.
In short, let’s ban things that we don’t understand. Even if that’s impossible. Even if it would criminalize a large portion of our population. Let’s shoot arrows into the ocean and punish the tide for coming in.
That the French proposal is a bad idea should be a given. That said, here are a few reasons:
The TOR network is designed to resist censorship. You may have heard that it’s purely a haven for hackers and drug dealers. Yes, those folks are there, but it’s also a vital communications channel for people living in oppressed countries. By design, it is also very hard to suppress. Even though China currently blocks public access to TOR, citizens in that country can still get online via secure TOR bridges. If France really decides to go through with this, they will grind their boot on the faces of people who just want to talk to their families, while more tech-savvy users (a category that presumably includes terrorists) will be completely undeterred.
Regarding Wi-Fi, I’ll clarify that the proposal states that public access will be banned only during a state of emergency. Don’t breathe a sigh of relief, however. Following the Paris attacks, France is still in a state of emergency, and that status has been extended indefinitely. To ban public internet access during a national emergency, and for an extended period, is quite simply inhumane. For many, many people, this sort of public access is the only access they’ll ever get, and it represents a vital lifeline for jobs and families.
I don’t know if the French government has thought this proposal through. Maybe it has, and has simply decided to ignore the ramifications. One thing is certain, however: Should this notion become law, it will certainly catalyze more dissent against the French government than it can ever possibly suppress.
[Post image via Shutterstock]