French police are calling for a new law to block free Wi-Fi access during a state of emergency following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. They're also calling for lawmakers to ban the Tor network in the country.
France's law enforcement wants to restrict open Wi-Fi, ban Tor
The reasoning behind blocking free and shared Wi-Fi networks, according to the French newspaper Le Monde, is that tracking an attacker's location is more difficult. Public and free Wi-Fi networks make it easier for people to mask their IP address, and by extension, their physical location.
Assuming their request becomes law, public networks like those at coffee shops would have to shut down whenever a state of emergency is declared. That could potentially prevent criminals and terrorists from easily accessing Wi-Fi networks after their plans are already in action, but would also prevent bystandards, victims, and witnesses from using the same infrastructure from reaching out for help or reporting what's happening.
Law enforcement is also asking for a nationwide ban on Tor, the system for protecting online privacy and anonymity. Tor is routinely used for legitimate purposes by people looking to keep their online activity private and journalists working with sensitive sources, as well as being a powerful tool for side stepping government level online censorship.
It's also sometimes used by criminals looking to hide their online communications, and that's what has France's law enforcement community worried. Their argument for banning Tor is that criminals and terrorists can use the platform to keep law enforcement from following their digital tracks.
Banning Tor may sound like a good move on paper, but isn't very effective in practice. France could block publicly known entry points into Tor, but can't block every possible access route, which effectively renders any attempt to block the service ineffective. People who are actively using Tor are also likely to know how to take advantage of the service even when the most common paths in are closed off.
Blocking Tor traffic could potentially cut down on some criminal and terrorist planning, but there are other methods for obfuscating online activities. Shutting down Wi-Fi networks during a state of emergency, however, won't do much to stop plans that are already in action.
Considering a state of emergency could last for days or weeks, that's a long time for France's population to go without widespread Internet access. Following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, the French government enacted a state of emergency, and is considering leaving it in place for three months.
The French government won't be holding a vote on potential new Internet restrictions until January. Hopefully lawmakers and police will calm down before then, otherwise we could be looking at the beginning of the great firewall of Europe.