As reported in the Guardian today, at the Downing Street summit tomorrow in the UK, British and US law enforcement agencies are to jointly target online child abuse by monitoring those who operate on the hidden Internet.
As part of this new initiative, Google has agreed to “monitor” 100,000 search terms related to child pornography and the use of this hidden Internet, which is called TOR, by the way.
Now, this is all in the name of preventing child abuse, and who can argue against that, right?
The problem with this new initiative can be found later on in the article:
The [British] government estimates that 20,000 people [in the UK] are using encrypted and anonymous networks, such as the Tor anonymising service, to communicate. Many of these will be carrying out perfectly legal activities.
Awareness of the threat to privacy and knowledge of the “dark web” have increased since news of the US National Security Agency’s activities surfaced. But the dark web is also a favoured tool for those involved in distributing child abuse material, who have an interest in keeping their identities hidden.
It’s not the fact that the bad guys use TOR, it’s that good guys use TOR as well, namely:
- Journalists who want their communications with their sources protected from the prying eyes of the government, as Glenn Greenwald recently stated in a Reddit AMA.
- The New Yorker uses it to allow its sources to remain anonymous
- Human rights activists
- Citizen journalists
- And other legitimate users
But the NSA and the British equivalent GCHQ have shown that, in the name of protecting us from the “bad guys”, they don’t care about our privacy, and as a result, with this new initiative, they are targeting anyone who uses the TOR network as potential “child pornographers.”
Since they haven’t cracked the TOR network yet, the next best thing is to find out the names of people who search for certain TOR related terms on Google or Bing and to track those people directly.
Once they have the IP addresses of all the computers that have searched for particular terms (child porn, dark internet, tor network, for software), they can then monitor those computers directly without needing to crack TOR at all.
The terms on the list today might seem like they are related to stamping out child pornography, but as one commenter (whitworthflange TheCatsTable 18 November 2013 8:33am) on the Guardian article wrote:
I’m not aware that there is a “proliferation of child abuse images on the internet” as is claimed here. I’ve never come across any and I suspect you would have to search very hard to find them if you were looking. …
The danger is that by riding on the back of public concern and using the buzzwords of child abuse governments are actually trying to control the web. NSA and GSHQ have been trying to get through Tor for a long time and they don’t really care that in doing so they will make life dangerous for dissidents and political opponents of the many oppressive regimes around the world, and who use the software for their protection.
Coincidently, the Justice Department jailed another government whistleblower last month, who just so happened to have child pornography on his computer, and 4 days ago a massive child-porn ring was busted after a multi-year investigation.
The timing of these events along with the announcement of this new government initiative can’t help make you wonder if there is more going on here than meets the eye.