France wants block on internet encryption & Wi-Fi in wake of Paris attacks

© Francois Guillon
France wants to introduce security measures which could outlaw the use of encrypting software for anonymous connections and public Wi-Fi but critics say authorities are using the November 13 Paris attacks to clamp down on internet freedom.

The French government is pondering whether to introduce measures which could make the use of Tor, the free anonymizing software, illegal and to make it harder for terrorists to contact one another over the internet, according to an internal document from the Ministry of the Interior, as seen by Le Monde. However, the software is also used by journalists and whistleblowers as a safe way to correspond to avoid government surveillance.

Paris is thinking of moving to outlaw the use of public Wi-Fi during a state of emergency, however, it also wants “to block or forbid communications of the Tor network,” a step which Le Monde says could be introduced by January.

To encrypt communications, Tor uses Onion Routing, a software system that allows users to browse the web anonymously by preventing website and network operators from knowing a person’s location and the websites the person has been viewing. It does this by passing the connection between thousands of relay points to make it impossible to pinpoint where it came from.

The right to use encrypted software has even been defended by the UN.

"Encryption and anonymity, separately or together, create a zone of privacy to protect opinion and belief," a written report by David Kaye, a special rapporteur in the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in May.

Last week, the French government said it wanted to change its constitution to allow a state of emergency to last for six months. The country has been in a state of emergency since the multiple terror attacks in Paris which killed 130 people last month.

The news came after Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the current state of emergency could be extended beyond its scheduled conclusion on February 26.

"Obviously, we can't rule out that possibility, depending on the level of danger, and we have to act with a great deal of responsibility," Valls told Europe 1 radio.

Created during the Algerian war in 1955, France's state of emergency law allows the government to conduct warrantless searches, put people under house arrest, seal the country's borders, and ban demonstrations.

The protest ban has been met with fierce opposition from those who say they have the fundamental right to demonstrate.

“This state of emergency grants the forces of order like the police and the army exceptional powers that put people’s liberties at risk – whether it’s night-time raids on their homes, house arrests, or the ban on demonstrations," lawyer Patrick Baudouin, Honorary President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), told The Local.

This is not the first time the French government has tried to introduce surveillance legislation. In the wake of January’s Charlie Hebdo attacks, parliament approved new snooping rules which would allow the government to spy on the emails and phone calls of anyone linked to terror suspects, without authorization from a judge.

However, the move led to protests, with hundreds rallying in Paris against the government’s plans, while the co-founder of an internet surveillance watchdog slammed the move.

“It’s not just about terrorism; it allows the intelligence agencies to resort to surveillance for a broad range of motives: scientific, economic espionage or monitoring social movements,” said Felix Treguer, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net.

“So it’s really not just about terrorism and some of the measures really come down to legalizing mass surveillance. This is of course a very dangerous path,” he added.