Internet privacy is paramount in this day and age, and we are not only referring to the canceled net neutrality laws in the US. The Tor Browser and Network have enabled countless people to browse and act anonymously on the internet. Regardless of all the positive aspects of the technology, it is all but popular, especially since it gives users potential access to the mysterious Dark Web.
The Tor Project and Internet Privacy
The Tor Project is a technology aimed at creating a network that provides all its participants the benefit of anonymity. When using a Tor Browser, everything you do is encrypted and gets forwarded through three locations within the worldwide network, making it impossible, or at least incredibly hard, to track you or your online activity. The Tor Project is therefore aimed at making sure you cannot be spied on by anyone, be it private individuals, the government or corporations. The origins of this technology actually lie within a U.S. government institution, that started its development with the basic need of the U.S. government being able to communicate over the internet in a secure manner. The project then later was turned into an open-source project and handed over to a non-profit organization, that has been responsible for it ever since, making it accessible to anyone.
Why is this move important? Because the more users the Tor Network has, the more anonymous the single person becomes. If only a small number of people would communicate with each other, it impacts the efficiency of creating anonymity in a negative way.
Using a Tor Browser doesn’t Mean You’re Safe
An adequate example here would be the case of a Harvard student that used the Tor Browser to issue a bomb threat in 2013 to avoid an exam. He used the encrypted network to set up a fake email account and compose the threat email. This email, however, carried the originating IP-Address, which obviously did not help identify him, but it did tell investigators he was using the Tor Network. While the activity within the network, as said, is encrypted, your ISP can still see that you are connected to it, even though your actual activity is hidden. In this case, the student connected to the Tor Network from the school’s public Wifi and as he was the only soul using a Tor Browser at the time of the email being sent, it was still very easy to catch him.
Two lessons here: In order to be anonymous, the more people the better. If more people use the service, making out an individual is very difficult. The other one is the fact, that hiding your activity is not the only thing one has to be aware of to stay anonymous.
Internet Privacy: Why Should We Strive to be Anonymous Online?
You may ask why we should strive to make our online activities anonymous and there is a very simple answer to that: because literally, a ton of people are interested in what you do online. You may as well ask if it isn’t a risk, allowing people to be completely anonymous, as this could make their criminal activity even more dangerous or may even be a catalyst to illegal proceedings.
We live in a day and age where it is proven and completely out in the open that we are spied on from all sides. Governments, Corporations and Black Hat Hackers. The key phrase that is heard all too often in connection with this is “I have nothing to hide” therefore saying you don’t think one should be concerned about internet privacy.
The point is this – you may think you have nothing to hide. Fine! Let’s put it this way: as soon as a stranger enters your home and starts jerking off to your old family albums in your living room, you definitely will have something to hide from that perv. And why should be the internet different from the physical world you move in? The devices you use, including what you store on and access with them, should be as private as the inside of your home. You may invite people in to share certain parts with a select group, but you won’t leave the door open for people to come in and inspect everything you have as they please. That’s why we have locks on doors and that’s why we should have securely encrypted ways to access the internet and be anonymous. It’s as simple as that.
Internet Anonymity and Criminality
And yes, anonymity will always attract criminals, like dark alleyways do, but using the fact that criminals exist as an excuse to abandon the need for internet privacy and encryption is the wrong conclusion. People argue that anonymity will, in the end, only benefit criminals and by being transparent we would spot those people earlier. Let’s transfer this to the physical world once more.
Imagine we would give our governments unrestricted control to come by any house and search it. Without a warrant, just being as transparent as possible, do you think that would hinder criminal minds? It wouldn’t without a targeted approach, and a targeted approach can be made without complete transparency already. If there’s a reason and evidence one is a criminal a warrant can be obtained and acted upon. The problem we are facing right now is that the laws of our physical worlds don’t properly carry over to the digital world. However often people cry out for making us as transparent as possible, be aware that this is mostly not needed and will probably not improve the apprehension of criminals or increase the general safety.
Quite the contrary actually. Making people more vulnerable for the state to observe means making people more vulnerable in general. Rest assured if a government hacker can spy on you, be aware that there are countless more black hat hackers around the world interested in your online activity for various reasons.
The Tor Browser is an important tool for many people and should be used by many more. What it is held back by is the notion of criminal behavior in the Dark Web, which is not as bad as its reputation, and does not outweigh the positive aspects of the Tor Project.
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