20 Apr Tor and VPN Users Can Now Be Spied by Government Under New Rule
Although the purpose of virtual private networks and Tor is to safeguard its users from the prying eyes of hackers, scammers, thieves, and the government, a new landmark judgement from the United States Supreme Court has stated that users of these services can still be subject to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The said rule, which was approved by the US Supreme Court, permits a federal magistrate to issue a warrant that will allow the FBI to search and seize any computer that is suspected to be fraudulently used especially those with VPN or Tor installed in it. This would mean that the FBI has greater power with the approval of this rule.
The FBI considers the enactment of this rule as an action to combat cybercrime despite the tension between the intelligence community and technology privacy advocates. It has gotten more intense now that the broadband privacy rules have been negated and internet service providers can now collect all of their users’ data and hand it to the authorities.
“Whatever euphemism the FBI uses to describe it – whether they call it a ‘remote access search’ or a ‘network investigative technique’ – what we’re talking about is government hacking, and this obscure rule change would authorize a lot more of it,” said Kevin Bankston, the director of the policy advocacy group Open Technology Institute, who spoke openly against the rule changes.
“Congress should stop this power-grab in its tracks and instead demand answers from the FBI, which so far has been ducking Congress’ questions on this issue and fighting in court to keep its hacking tactics secret,” he added.
This is bad news to all internet users who wish to protect their privacy and keep all of their sensitive information secure. According to Facebook, over 1 million people are using Tor to browse the said website as of 2016. With this rule, internet users could be subject to government surveillance despite using a virtual private network.
Privacy is Gone – What Will Happen Next?
Now that the broadband privacy rules created by the Federal Communications Commission has been voted by the senate to be repealed, ISPs can now collect personal information and sell these to the highest bidder. Before, these privacy rules restricted internet service providers (ISPs) from collecting all their user’s information. Now, the opposite is happening.
Without the use of proxy or virtual private networks, the following data from each internet user can now be collected by ISPs: web browsing history. precise geo-location. medical records / health information. financial information (e.g. bank account details), social security numbers, app usage history, and communication content (whether public or private).
Supposedly, the broadband privacy rules are created to require ISPs to ask for permission from its users before sharing the said information. However, republican senators lead by Arizona’s Jeff Flake proposed a resolution to repeal the privacy rules. The senate voted for the resolution and, unfortunately for internet users, was approved 50-48 in favor of S.J. 34. This vote removes the privacy rules and prevents similar rules to be enacted in the future.
“If signed by the President, this law would repeal the FCC’s widely-supported broadband privacy framework, and eliminate the requirement that cable and broadband providers offer customers a choice before selling their sensitive, personal information,” said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny in a joint statement.
Nathan White, Senior Legislative Manager at Access Now, also said “This resolution is a vote for big corporate profits over the rights and civil liberties of average people. The House of Representatives must now stand up for consumers and against the CRA resolution to throw away internet privacy protections.”