Another week and another Guardian leak about those pesky agents in GCHQ and the NSA trying to intercept data in the hopes of stopping terrorism and fighting crime. Their latest target? Tor, which stands for The Onion Router and is a way of anonymising your internet traffic by routing it through other users’ internet connections.
This latest story follows the FBI shut-down of massive deep web market-place The Silk Road, which was known to most as the de facto place to buy drugs online with ease. The Road was home to a dedicated and vibrant community of narcotics dealers and users from all over the world.
The Guardian argues that Tor is “relied upon by journalists, activitists and campaigners… to maintain the privacy of their communications” and place emphasis on its “importance to dissidents and human rights organisations”, barely mentioning the alternate and much more popular uses for Tor.
I spent some time browsing the deep web, hoping to meet the dissidents and whistleblowers who were making the world a better and safer place for the rest of us.
There’s no Google for the deep web, but a good starting point is the (not so) Hidden Wiki. While the takedown of Freedom Hosting earlier this year has knocked out quite a large number of communities and sites revolving around child sex abuse, you don’t have to look hard to find links to working communities.
More appalling still is how blasé these people are about it.
If that’s not your thing, you can head elsewhere and fund the Islamic movement in the Western World. It’s super easy and super anonymous.
My most interesting find was a sort of Kickstarter for assassinations. I doubt this is anything more than an elaborate way to make some Bitcoin, but you can nominate a candidate and donate towards the bounty. The highest so far is Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve at a whopping 120BTC or roughly US$11,500.
The argument that you’ll hear from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Guardian is that Tor is essential for our freedom. (Unlike the press, apparently, which the latter is desperate to muzzle.)
Tor grants people access to disgusting and illegal material, allows for the funding of terrorism and purchase of practically anything more easily than it ever should be. Add that to the fact that journalists and whistleblowers can, and should, use PGP to encrypt their data without having to promote this disgusting underbelly of the internet.
Anonymity and lack of accountability allow for the very worst in society to thrive.