21 April 2016

By Tor and the Electric Eye

Tor (The Onion Router) is often touted as a means to escape government surveillance, a way to evade tracking and the discovery of your location. It utilises encryption and thousands of relays to inhibit analysis.

It is of course attacked by the Establishment as a means for Dark Web access and operators to function with impunity.

While there are plenty of criminals and shady elements out there, the government is really afraid of subversion, investigative journalism, whistleblowing, copyright infringement and leaks. It is well documented that the government is happy to look the other way when it comes to great deal of criminal activity. A case could be made that in many cases the lines between criminality and government grow blurry as there is often collaboration and utilisation of services on all sides. There are huge bureaucracies dependent on crime and I don't think they would be too happy to see it eradicated.

They don't like the idea of people communicating and operating off the radar, without an ability to monitor, trace and record. They object to you reading something or writing to someone without the ability to scrutinize you. Unreasonable search is a dead concept.

Of course considering the origins of Tor one wonders how secure it really is? Supposedly designed for intelligence communications and perhaps even dissidents living under authoritarian regimes it immediately garnered the attention of privacy activists. In light of the 'Silk Road' breakup in 2013 some have argued that Tor is now compromised and that law enforcement has a back door.

And yet there must be some difficulties for the authorities because they become apoplectic at the thought of libraries and other public facilities hosting the network's nodes and/or facilitating the system. Is this an issue of principle or perhaps an establishment of precedent? There seemed to be similar questionable elements to the story regarding iPhone encryption.

The following NPR headline is misleading. He wasn't hosting 'The Dark Web' but he was hosting a Tor node or exit relay. The story is disconcerting.

It seems fairly obvious this is less about paedophilia and more about stopping Tor and the ability to operate outside the mainstream grid. Sure, there are sick people out there and they will continue to operate with or without Tor. They always have. But the state will use whatever excuse it needs to shut down these networks, even if that means accusing people who had nothing to do with the actual crimes.

I don't see them going after ISP's or cloud servers because they 'stored' or processed data that was criminal. But if you operate as a Tor server, then you had better be prepared to account for every bit of data traversing your system. And of course an individual will not have the legal resources available that a large corporate ISP will.

I considered getting into Tor at one point and doing all I could to divorce myself from the mainstream cyber-grid. And yet, I came to believe some time ago that such attempts actually draw attention. It's like putting a sign out in front of your house that says, 'Come investigate me!'

Up here in space
I'm looking down on you
My laser's trace
Everything you do

You think you've private lives
Think nothing of the kind
There is no true escape
I'm watching all the time

I'm made of metal
My circuits gleam
I am perpetual
I keep the country clean

I'm electric, electric spy
I'm protective electric eye

c.1982 Rob Halford, KK Downing, Glenn Tipton

You may not like the style of music, and rightly so, but the lyrics are apropos to our contemporary reality.



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