The National Police Agency (NPA) is poised to urge the Internet service provider industry to help site administrators voluntarily block communications if an anonymous software system called "Tor" -- short for "The onion router" -- is found abused online.
The move comes on the heels of a series of online threats via remotely hijacked computers using the Tor system, which allows users to mask their online identities and locations by routing connections through several servers.
An expert panel to the NPA, which was looking into measures to combat crimes abusing the Tor system, compiled a report on April 18 stating that blocking online communications at the discretion of site administrators will be effective in preventing such crimes. Based on the recommendation, the NPA will urge the Internet provider industry and other entities to make voluntary efforts to that effect.
According to the NPA, while the IP addresses of site visitors are normally known to the visited sites, the Tor system enables users to visit sites or dispatch information without revealing their identities. Over the past several years, the Tor system was abused in a number of crimes including the posting of online murder threats on Internet bulletin boards, theft of money from accounts via illegal accesses to Internet banking sites, postings on dating sites by those seeking relationships with children, and leakages of security information from the Metropolitan Police Department.
The panel's report recommends measures against criminal cases abusing Tor taking place here and abroad. The panel specifically recommends that communications be blocked when there is access from IP addresses publicly listed as those allocated to the third in a chain of computers that are used by Tor.
The Tor system was utilized by citizens in pro-democracy movements in the Middle East to escape government suppression, while Wikileaks also recommends Tor to information providers. The planned access restrictions are therefore expected to spark a backlash from the industry.
"Communication privacy is our lifeline. We won't be able to accept such a request," said an industry insider. An NPA official said, "We will make detailed explanations and seek their understanding."
Correction: The article uploaded on April 18 was headlined, "NPA to urge Internet providers to block users of hijacking software." However, we have corrected it to "NPA to urge ISP industry to help site administrators block users of anonymity software," as it is site administrators, and not Internet service providers, that will be asked to block users of the software.
(24th April 2013, The Mainichi)