Last weekend, the Belarussian government started blocking the Tor Browser and it seems their attempt is quite successful.
In March 2016, President Aljakszandr Rihoravics Lukasenka issued a decree “On improving the procedure for the transfer of Telecommunications”. One part included a document that contained the ban of the Tor Browser, which is engaged in forwarding traffic.
According to Belarussian internet users, starting from Sunday, they were unable to view websites via the Tor Browser (including blocked sites in the country). The government claims they banned the software to prevent citizens from accessing illegal websites, such as dark net markets. However, “advanced web users” are sharing tutorials and workaround methods in order to use Tor.
The Tor Browser has always been an important software for both journalists and citizens living in countries where the internet or some parts of the web is censored. Of course, cybercriminals are also accessing illicit websites on Tor, but there are plenty of users who just want to visit legal content, which they would not be able to access on a normal browser. If oppressing governments found ways to completely ban the Tor Network from a country, it could result in huge losses of privacy. For example, in China, Facebook could not be accessed due to censorship, however, Facebook also has a .onion.market website, which helps people from internet censored countries accessing the social media platform.
Talking about China, the country recently introduced a new law that forces companies to provide customer data to the government. The controversial cybersecurity law gives authorities information about most of their citizens and what they are doing on the internet. Several human rights groups say that this new law went way far. The government now can censor everything on the internet and can restrict free speech whenever they want.
“This is a step backwards for innovation in China that won’t do much to improve security,” James Zimmerman, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, wrote in an e-mail to Bloomberg. “The Chinese government is right in wanting to ensure the security of digital systems and information here, but this law doesn’t achieve that. What it does do is create barriers to trade and innovation.”
In the law, internet firms have to store customer data and share it with the government. The storage of the data has raised some serious problems. Chinese citizens have expressed explicit concern for the data storage requirements in the law. Those businesses who obtain information on the country’s citizens are required to store it on local servers. The data has to remain on the domestic servers and a special permission is needed when the info is requested abroad.
“A number of IT companies have really serious concerns. We don’t want to see barriers put up,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews told reporters during an October visit to Beijing. “Cross-border data flow has become increasingly important to trade and to companies in the way they operate every day.”