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UK Gov SciTech advice bureau suggests keeping Tor alive to reduce street crime

Embracing anonymity may be easier than fighting it

The UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) has issued a POSTnote titled “The darknet and online anonymity” in which it assesses the threats posed by anonymity technologies like Tor and concludes there's not much governments or law enforcement agencies can do about them.

The bulk of the four-page document explains Tor's operations and along the way notes that one of its applications is helping law enforcement agencies (LEAs) to mask their own activities

It then considers what the UK's government and LEAs might do about Tor.

The basic conclusion is that it's probably best left alone, because Britons think they deserve online anonymity and would not accept a ban on Tor or other anonymity technologies. There's also an argument that any ban would likely spark a repeat of the Tor Project's effort to create secret nodes when China attempted to crimp the anonymity network, strengthening Tor rather than making life easier for LEAs.

Another option is for UK authorities to work more closely with Tor so that LEAs can get access when necessary, an option the POSTnote says Tor itself is keen to pursue.

The document also wonders if banning Tor might actually worsen crime, citing a 2014 book called The Dark Net as the source of the following argument:

“... online drug markets like Silk Road transfer parts of the drug dealing business from the streets to the internet and may shorten the supply chain from drug producers to consumers. Some say this can reduce the number of drug-related crimes like robbery and shoplifting, and thus lower the social and economic costs of drug misuse.”

POSTnotes have no official status, but are intended to “anticipate policy implications for parliamentarians” and “help parliamentarians examine science and technology issues effectively.” ®

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