Leonid Levin, the head of the Duma’s committee on public communications policy, wants to grant police the extrajudicial power to block access to Internet anonymizers and “the means of accessing anonymous networks, such as Tor.”
“This possibly would allow us not only to prevent access to prohibited information distributed online,” Levin explains, “but it could also increase our ability to combat the commercial distribution of malware and illegal access to computer data.” He argues Roskomnadzor, Russia’s state agency for media oversight, needs increased funding, given rising “tensions.”
“International tensions, as well the technologization and internationalization of crime, force us to invest significant additional resources in our armed forces and law enforcement agencies. These measures are reasonable and justified, but for some reason data-control systems have been excluded from these resources,” Levin complained.
Tor is free software that enables anonymous Internet access, allowing users to conceal their location and usage from third parties conducting network surveillance or Internet traffic analysis. Using Tor, it’s possible to reach any website blocked inside Russia, whether it’s the blog of opposition leader Alexey Navalny or a particular banned tweet by Meduza editor Sultan Suleimanov. In October 2014, Facebook created a way for anonymous users of Tor to access its website directly.
Standard search engines intentionally do not index content from certain portions of the Internet. This content, which goes by many names, notably the “DeepWeb” and “DarkNet,” is accessible only with software like Tor, which allows users to access websites using the .onion host suffix anonymously, hiding their IP address. While there is nothing inherently criminal about the DeepWeb, it provides a forum for criminals to carry out illegal activities and trade illicit goods anonymously.
Chinese authorities try to disable Tor by blocking access to the “input” nodes Tor uses to connect users to websites. The government analyzes Web traffic to identify these (constantly-changing) nodes and then blocks them. Nevertheless, it’s possible to circumvent even these extensive blocking efforts. For example, there are tools to mask Tor traffic as other types of traffic, making it look like Skype data, for instance.