French Police Call for Restrictions on Tor and VoIP Encryption

French authorities are considering a ban on Tor, as well as rules that would require VoIP users to hand over encryption keys, as part of what police say is an effort to restrict terrorists’ ability to communicate privately online.

Le Monde, a major newspaper in France, reports that police have requested authority to “prohibit and block communications on the Tor netweork in France.”  They also want to be able “to identify VoIP applications and require service providers to communicate encryption keys to security forces.”

The proposed regulations are part of bills that France’s legislature could consider as early as next month.

The call for greater censorship in France follows terrorist attacks in November. The New York Times reported based on an anonymous source that terrorists used encryption software for that attack. However, an unencrypted text message was the key that led police to one of the attackers in the days following the incident, making it unclear to what extent the terrorists used privacy software to encrypt all of their communications.

The proposal by the French police does not explain how the government would block Tor, although Chinese censors have provided a model by restricting Tor access in China for the last several years.

It is also not clear exactly which VoIP apps would be affected by the requirement that encryption keys be made available to police, or what the procedure would be for obtaining such information.

So far, there has not been mention of restrictions on other online privacy tools, like VPNs. Plotters could presumably still use those encryption methods to hide communications even if Tor and encrypted VoIP conversations were banned.

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