Japan’s police – not unlike every other nation who has an Internet savvy population – is up to its waist in dealing with web-based crimes. To help ease the burden on a digitally backward police force, Japan’s National Police Agency (NPA) is urging the nation’s ISPs to help in the fight with cybercrime by blocking users of the IP-anonymizing software Tor.
The NPA’s plan is to convince ISPs to block users if there is any reason at all to suspect that they have “abused” the anonymizing features of Tor. Though the language used in the statement leaves a lot of room to maneuver, it also is vague enough to suppose that the NPA’s strategy will be to presume guilt on anyone who uses Tor to anonymize their online activity – whatever that activity may be. The statement says that the NPA panel “which was looking into measures to combat crimes abusing the Tor system, compiled a report on April 18 stating that blocking online communications at the discretion of site administrators will be effective in preventing such crimes. Based on the recommendation, the NPA will urge the Internet provider industry and other entities to make voluntary efforts to that effect.” The report cited the various crimes that this move may prevent, like “financial fraud, the predatory behavior of child abusers, and leaks of confidential police information.” Some are of the opinion that one of the foremost reasons the police have for blocking Tor is the latter, alluding to multiple times that hackers and online perpetrators have proceeded to put Japan’s police force to shame.
Tor came to the spotlight when the Japanese police was seeking out a hacker who went by the name “Demon Killer”, who posted death threats on the public message boards hugely popular to the Japanese online population. The police took four people into custody – those whose IP addresses had been used – and reportedly “extracted” a confession. It was all rosy until the hacker posted messages even as all the suspects were with the police, shaming the authorities to no end until they issued an apology. The hacker continued goading the police, sending them on a wild goose chase – or more appropriately, a wild cat chase – finally to an island south of Tokyo where said cat was found with a memory card full of hacked info on its collar. The police finally made an arrest after CCTV cameras pointed to a suspect, and Tor was one of the software used by the alleged hacker to cover his online tracks.
One can understand the zeal of the Japanese police to stamp out cybercrime, but someone might have to tell them that they’re going about it the wrong way. Tor is not all the web evil that it is painted to be – democratic activists under repressive governments have used it to achieve good effects. So have whistleblowers to high-profile crimes that want to mask their IPs for their own protection. A blanket ban is not the solution – it is a quite a bit like banning the use of fire solely because of the dangers it poses. If an Internet feature can be used to facilitate illegal activity, shouldn’t the reaction be – as with our fire analogy –to understand it, harness the benefits and create safety measures around the dangers, rather than just stamping the whole system out?
[via Ars Technica]