Ok, this isn’t new news, as Techdirt reported it in back in August, but it’s new to us, and is quite alarming at that!
Russia is hardly known for its tolerant attitude to liberalism and internet freedom, and in August the Russian newspaper Izvestia reported (original in Russian) that,
‘The head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) has personally ordered preparations for laws that would block the Tor anonymity network from the entire Russian sector of the Internet. FSB director Aleksandr Bortnikov announced the initiative at a recent session of the National Anti-Terrorism Committee, saying that his agency would develop the legislative drafts together with other Russian law enforcement and security bodies.’
It seems that the FSB became involved when a bunch of self-appointed moral guardians sent them a letter ‘with a request to block Tor, as it is one of the favorite software tools for distributors and users of child pornography’.
That the FSB would need such prompting seems unlikely to us, and it certainly didn’t take them long to get the ball rolling, trotting out the usual bogey-men as a justification for trampling on citizens’ freedoms,
‘The FSB official said that the agency initiated the move as internet anonymizers were used by weapon traffickers, drug dealers and credit card fraudsters, giving the FSB an obvious interest in limiting the use of such software.’
The whole purpose of the Tor network, which is used by around 60,000 people every day, is to provide anonymity for its users, and while it is true that criminals and other ne’er-do-wells do make use of this, so do many political dissidents and others with perfectly legitimate reasons.
In theory blocking Tor is tricky, as any user can volunteer to set themselves up as ‘node’ for others to use. However, because of bandwidth problems and potential risks (please see this article for a fuller explanation of how Tor works), few people are willing to run exit nodes (the final node in the relay between your PC and the internet) making finding and blocking these relatively small number of IP addresses fairly easy.
It should also be noted that the report talks not only about unblocking Tor, but also ‘internet anonymizers’ which include proxies and, very worrying for us, VPN services. According to Techdirt it ‘seems likely’ that the law will be passed, but we have been unable to find out more details. As soon as we do, you can rest assured that we’ll let our readers know!