ISPs Running TOR Part of German Porn Crackdown

Steve Javors
SAN FRANCISCO — Raiding seven ISPs last week, German law enforcement is beefing up its efforts to combat the scourge of child pornography. A total of 10 servers were confiscated from the companies, all running the same program that keeps Internet traffic anonymous.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation distributes a program called TOR, which functions as an Internet traffic anonymizer. TOR aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships and state security, the project’s website said.

Since TOR strips web traffic of IP addresses, some users could be involved in nefarious activity, like child pornography, the German public prosecutor’s office alleges.

While TOR doesn’t actually contain or hold data as part of the program, it encrypts and redirects users like a proxy connection. This allows for encrypted packets to be send through the server.

The German government has yet to press charges against the ISPs, and its unlikely the police found incriminating evidence on the servers, experts said.

The Internet blogosphere has picked up on the story, suggesting the German government’s motivation in seizing the servers is to scare operators into not using TOR, therefore rendering all Internet traffic transparent.

The fallout from this case could have far-reaching implications. Many bloggers fear this prosecution could lead to the death of traffic anonymizers, where no one’s Internet usage could be masked by using additional software.

“I run TOR to get a certain level of privacy,” IT engineer and TOR operator Alexander Jansen wrote on his blog. “Staying anonymous is no crime. I want my privacy. This situation is disturbing, really disturbing ... the last thing I want to experience is the police kicking down my door, seizing my computer.”