Translated Article: Reporters Without Borders protest against planned Criminalization of Tor Servers
[Note: netzpolitik.org is a German news portal covering the impact of a networked world on society and digital rights. They rely on donations and welcome your support. We translated this article for them, because we both like their work and use Tor on a daily basis.]
With the new IT security law Interior Minister Horst Seehofer wants to criminalize the Tor network. That hurts the freedom of the press and the protection of sources. Opposition and Reporters Without Borders protest sharply against the plan.
With the IT Security Act 2.0 the Federal Ministry of the Interior is planning to criminalize the operation of Tor servers. According to the draft, the person who “offers an internet-based service whose access and accessibility is limited by special technical precautions and whose purpose or activity is geared towards facilitating or encouraging the commission of [certain] illegal acts shall in future be liable to prosecution”. But this definition is very broad and jeopardizes anonymizing infrastructures in general.
“An internet-based service then provides, for example, who operates a node of the Tor network,” says Prof. Dr. Matthias Bäcker, Professor of Public Law and Information Law at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. He criticizes the bill as a dangerously broad regulation whose practical use is doubtful.
It is also important to note that Tor makes socially desirable activities, such as journalism, possible, said Bäcker in a guest article on netzpolitik.org.
Important for journalism
Now Reporters Without Borders is also protesting against the planned criminalization of infrastructures that allow anonymisation. “We defend ourself against the criminalization of our campaign for anonymity on the Internet. Just because we operate Tor nodes, we are not criminal, ” says Christian Mihr, CEO of the Press Freedom Organization.
Reporters Without Borders supports the Tor network with two servers to allow journalists to circumvent censorship.
“In our digital security training sessions, we see daily how important a VPN or the Tor Browser has become for the work of journalists. In the age of increasing surveillance such offers should be strengthened rather than criminalized.”
One third of the traffic goes through Germany
In the case of the Tor network it’s particularly critical that about 30 percent of network traffic is run on German servers and about 1,300 nodes are registered. Thus the anonymization network is heavily dependent on German legislation and could be weakened by the tightening in its entirety.
According to Reporters Without Borders, numerous operators inside the Tor infrastructure are already anxious. In addition, the new law also allows investigation against revelation platforms such as Wikileaks.
Reporters Without Borders, together with the association Zwiebelfreunde, one of the largest operators of anonymisation infrastructures worldwide, has published a statement on the topic. The authors of the opinion recommend rejecting both the plans of the Ministry of the Interior and the Federal Council immediately, especially as the alleged loopholes in penal law would not exist anyway.
Instead, the authors recommend a personal and technical increase in police for effective prosecution, especially in the area of trained IT professionals. To this end, the existing cybercrime law enforcement agencies should also be strengthened.
Heavy attack on press freedom
Katja Kipping, leader of the Left Party, also emphasizes to netzpolitik.org Germany’s important role in the worldwide Tor network: “If Seehofer’s initiative attacks this commitment, this would have serious consequences for the anonymisation network. That, in turn, would be a serious attack on press relations in many regions of the world where journalists lives are in constant danger.”
Besides protecting one’s own life, protecting sources is an essential part of the work of journalists throughout the world. “An attack on the anonymization network is thus an attack on press freedom. That also whistleblowers come under heavy pressure again, must hardly be mentioned at this point.”
Green interior and network expert Konstantin von Notz says, “We certainly need to make law enforcement more effective, but criminalizing Tor servers and rejecting anonymity is definitely the wrong way!”