Tor Isn't A Child Porn Enthusiast's Best Friend, No Matter What The DOJ Claims

from the willful-distortion-of-facts dept

Anything that makes law enforcement's job slightly more difficult is swiftly turned into a pariah. And usually the worst kind of pariah: a child molestor.

Apple and Google both announced encryption-by-default going forward on their mobile phone operating systems. Law enforcement officials swiftly gathered to talk loudly about all of the dead and molested children that would result from this decision.

The same goes for Tor. The use of Tor can obscure criminal activity -- by hiding the perpetrator and the activity itself. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to use Tor (like many internet services and platforms hoovering up tons of data themselves), but because it makes chasing "bad guys" a little harder, it too must go.

The best way for government agencies to get rid of something they don't like is legislation. When a law enforcement official says something like the following, they're not hoping to sway the intelligent and informed members of the public. They're saying it to sway those who can actually do something about it: tech-clueless legislators and those who vote for them.
At the State of the Net conference in Washington on Tuesday, US assistant attorney general Leslie Caldwell discussed what she described as the dangers of encryption and cryptographic anonymity tools like Tor, and how those tools can hamper law enforcement…

“Tor obviously was created with good intentions, but it’s a huge problem for law enforcement,” Caldwell said in comments reported by Motherboard and confirmed to me by others who attended the conference. “We understand 80 percent of traffic on the Tor network involves child pornography.
That's a scary number. And it's not even close to accurate.

Wired's Andy Greenberg explains how Caldwell took a statistic from Tor research and twisted it to further the government's agenda.
[A] Department of Justice flack said Caldwell was citing a University of Portsmouth study WIRED covered in December. He included a link to our story. But I made clear at the time that the study claimed 80 percent of traffic to Tor hidden services related to child pornography, not 80 percent of all Tor traffic.
Which is a big difference. "Hidden services" is not just another term for "Tor traffic." Caldwell conflated the two to further the DOJ's push for the end of anything that presents an obstacle to easy access.

The real number is much lower. Greenberg says that most Tor traffic doesn't route to darknet sites. Only about 1.5% of Tor traffic accesses hidden services, and 80% of 1.5% is a number that wouldn't even trouble the most tech-addled Congressperson or the retirement community that repeatedly votes him or her back into office.

At most, a little over 1% of Tor traffic is related to child pornography. That very low number would seem resistant to improvement. How much money and effort should be thrown at 1% of a service in limited use? The answer would appear to be "not very much," but that doesn't tear down Tor's walls or approve budget requests. So, "80% of all Tor traffic" it is, according to the DOJ.

And that 1.2% may even be overstating it. NickM at the Tor Project Blog points out how some hidden service traffic may over-represent the number of people actually searching for certain illicit goods.
A Tor client makes a hidden service directory request the first time it visits a hidden service that it has not been to in a while. (If you spend hours at one hidden service, you make about 1 hidden service directory request. But if you spend 1 second each at 100 hidden services, you make about 100 requests.) Therefore, obsessive users who visit many sites in a session account for many more of the requests that this study measures than users who visit a smaller number of sites with equal frequency...
The greater the number of distinct hidden services a person visits, and the less reliable those sites are, the more hidden service directory requests they will trigger.
He breaks this down later with a hypothetical situation. 1000 people use Tor to access chat rooms while 10 conspiracy theorists use it to dig for information. Chat users may only log in once or twice a day and hang out at the same handful of venues. The ten conspiracy theorists may visit dozens of sites looking for more crazy, while entering and exiting multiple times. To an outside observer, this activity would appear to indicate that 10 conspiracy theorists make up a larger portion of Tor traffic than 1000 chat room users.

Child porn, like regular porn, is generally not one-stop shopping, unlike a favorite chatroom. Multiple site visits and multiple entrances/exits would inflate the percentage of child porn-related traffic relative to the (observable) whole.
Users who use it for obsessive behavior that spans multiple unreliable hidden services will be far overrepresented in the count of hidden service directory requests than users who use it for activities done less frequently and across fewer services. So any comparison of hidden service directory request counts will say more about the behavioral differences of different types of users than about their relative numbers, or the amount of traffic they generated.
In addition, law enforcement and anti-child porn agencies' own investigative efforts could very well be adding to this 1.2% figure.
Also, a very large number of hidden service directory requests are probably not made by humans! See bug 13287: We don't know what's up with that. Could this be caused by some kind of anti-abuse organization running an automated scanning tool?
So, there's a good chance that the non-scary 1.2% number is too high. Sure, the ideal would be 0.0% but law enforcement agencies should actually be pleasantly surprised the number is so low, rather than misquoting stats to make it appear as though anonymization services are child porn enthusiasts' playgrounds.

It isn't just child porn the government is after. There's a whole host of darkweb activities it wants to indict people for. But child porn "sells" better than drugs or prostitution or even the US's latest public enemy no. 1: terrorism. The number the DOJ is using to sell its attack on Tor is blatantly false, as anyone with a minimal amount of Google skills would quickly discover. But the DOJ doesn't care whether you or I believe it. It only needs enough people in Washington DC to believe it. The DOJ doesn't speak to the citizens. It only speaks to those who can assist it in stripping away what minimal personal data-shielding options we have left.

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  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 12:41pm

    "Encrypted networks worry the hell out of me and they have since the mid 1980s. The effects are very scary and very unpredictable and could be very destabilizing. But even the Four Horsemen of Kidporn, Dope Dealers, Mafia and Terrorists don't worry me as much as totalitarian governments. It's been a long century, and we've had enough of them.

    Our battle this century against totalitarianism has left terrible scars all over our body politic and the threat these people pose to us is entirely and utterly predictable. You can say that the devil we know is better than the devil we don't, but the devils we knew were ready to commit genocide, litter the earth with dead, and blow up the world. How much worse can that get? Let's not build chips and wiring for our police and spies when only their police and spies can reap the full benefit of them."

    - Bruce Sterling, 1994

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 1:45pm

      Re: (Bruce Sterling)

      Was this in a book or periodical, and if so which one? He makes a good point: I can choose to seek out "the Four Horsemen" or not but I cannot choose what government I have, unless I move.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 1:54pm

      Re:

      I'm noticing a disturbing trend: Perhaps fifty concise quotes, references or metaphors could respond to with eloquence and relevance to almost any story on Techdirt.

      I find that when I want to make a point about data privacy or surveillance, I know of quotes by authors who made the point far more eloquently than I could. I'm sure that many others are familiar with the same quotes.

      In the Star Trek: TNG episode "Darmok", the Enterprise crew is baffled by a race that can communicate only through metaphors and references. "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" was supposed to contain great meaning. This always greatly annoyed me as unrealistic.

      Nevertheless, I predict that in 10 years a government official will demand some form of totalitarianism like the one above. We'll tell Siri/Cortana/Palin/Google Now, "Bruce Sterling at CFP'94", or "Bruce Schneier, on DNA sampling", or "Paul Revere, warning the British." And our computers will post the relevant quotes to the forum. (Palin adding a "You betcha!") Communicating via Techdirt will resemble "Darmok."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kronomex, 28 Jan 2015 @ 1:04pm

    If it's good for the public in general then it's bad and must be reined in or stopped.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 1:20pm

      Re:

      How true, citizens trying to communicate in private, to be stopped, citizens monitoring government activity, to be stopped, whistle blowers revealing government misfeasance and malfeasance, to be stopped. It all shut up citizen, and do as you are told, and let us look at everything you do, just so we can make sure you are doing as you are told, while we your government do whatever we like.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 1:13pm

    I call bullshit

    Unless they know which specific hidden services are being accessed, there's no way to know how much of that represents illegal content.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 1:30pm

      Re: I call bullshit

      Remind me again how you prove that there isn't CP, terrorism and drugs on TOR?

      That's the problemw ith these asinine accusations - they diminish those who actually suffered from heinous crimes, and they are just used as a pitiful excuse to deny the public their civil liberties.

      I would be considerably more for this if those agencies who depend on the secrecy afforded by such things as TOR would be willing to be fully (and I mean everything available shortly after cases, and everything available to defendants) transparent.

      But no, these moral cowards choose expediency over commitments to the populace. And that only leads to bad places.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 2:04pm

      Re: I call bullshit

      Update: It turns out it's possible to tell which hidden services are being requested:

      https://blog.torproject.org/blog/hidden-services-need-some-love

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 1:20pm

    Let's not forget that among the biggest moral crusaders have been the entertainment industry lobbying arms RIAA and MPAA, telling the whole world about the child-pornography smorgasbord present on file-sharing networks. Because apparently Hollywood has always had the interests of children at heart.

    http://news.cnet.com/RIAA-Child-porn-rife-on-P2P-networks/2100-1028_3-5073817.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 1:40pm

    And the US indiscriminate illegal spying apparatus is a huge problem for the world. The NSA was obviously started with good intentions, but we understand that (bullshit statistic) percent of all internet traffic is now illegally captured and stored by the NSA.

    Its fun to talk out of your ass. \( o_o )\

    Maybe we should take a look at that far more wide spread illegal action by intelligence agencies supported by the DOJ before we worry about the children. The biggest lawless zone is the NSA and CIA.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 1:47pm

    TRUTH?

    Truth and facts are only a minor inconvenience to the Dept. of Judas. It only distracts from the program. They never say a lie they weren't fully deluded about. So hold your head up and march on, secure in the knowledge your never wrong. Fing idiots you say, I will out because might is right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 2:06pm

    when the DoJ stops protecting the pedophiles in their ranks as well as the ranks of all the other government agencies maybe we will believe the crap they spew out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    LeeJS (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 2:27pm

    I can see the headlines now

    "Hidden Dark Web Is Full Of Tor-Pedos"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 2:34pm

    Children are the real problem...

    If we got rid of all the children, we'd get rid of all the problems.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Pronounce (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 3:15pm

    Policy Rides Popular Opinion

    This is typical political shenanigans.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JP Jones (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 6:36pm

    The annoying part about this is that child porn is considered such a huge deal. Now, before all the strange looks, bear with me; child sexual abuse is a horrific crime. There are few things in my mind worse then violence against children.

    Child porn, however, is not actually harming any children, any more than a beheading video is killing someone. It's evidence of a crime, and just as snuff videos will be used by sick individuals for their own fantasies, child porn is used by disturbed people.

    The problem is that we've made child porn into such a pariah that even mentioning it causes people to look at you funny. Possess some? Your future is done. You're looking at jail time and a lifetime stigma. Keep in mind this is just for the possessing the record...not the act itself.

    Why is this a problem? Because child porn is evidence of a crime. What happens when you make possessing evidence illegal to an irrational degree? Well, kind of like punishing hackers for revealing security flaws, you get people who may find child porn and, rather than report it to the authorities, they immediately delete it and pretend it never happened.

    So, instead of an investigation which could potentially lead to the arrest of a child abuser, we have a child abuser free to harm more children. Not only that, but if the person was actually seeking child porn, and turns themselves in, rather than punishing them, why not get them some therapy?

    Although it's not a perfect analogy, that's kind of like jailing someone for trying to quit drinking because, hey, they're obviously an alcoholic. And isn't it at least possible that, with some therapy, someone who eventually becomes a child molester could have been handled before any children were harmed?

    I believe that due to our focus on crushing child pornography we've lost sight of the real tragedy...the act the pornography recorded. It depresses me that, as a society, we're focused more on punishing people for evidence of a crime than the crime itself, and that we discourage mentally ill people from getting the help they need by making their illness, rather than the act, illegal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Pragmatic, 30 Jan 2015 @ 6:11am

      Re:

      I see the argument you're trying to make, JP Jones, but please note, when the thing you do to get your kicks stops kicking, you're going to look for something stronger. Sooner or later it goes RW.

      Bear in mind that there's a paying market for this stuff and kids are sometimes abused to order.

      Yes, it's a demand-side problem and should be treated as such and yes, there's something very wrong in the heads of people who get involved in or are entertained by this kind of thing.

      But don't try telling me that mere possession shouldn't be a crime. Whether the number of children scarred for life (or worse) is large or small, even one is too many. And having images to stimulate the imaginations of these vile perverts makes things worse.

      Solution: provide mental healthcare services and counselling to CP users and pedophiles. Provide anonymous counselling services that they can call BEFORE they commit a crime. By reducing demand, I hope we can reduce the supply.

      This is not a problem you can solve but you can figure out how to manage it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 30 Jan 2015 @ 11:43am

        "vile perverts"

        There are safe, legal alternatives that, because chronophiles are thought of as such our more conservative sectors are trying to also criminalize, with some success depending on country-to-country, or in the US, county-to-county.

        And yes, there should be mental services for those who are inclined to aggress or seek out illegal material. But most states don't even acknowledge mental health. Other states believe that churches serve that function, and those states that do regard mental health do not consider sexual fetishes a priority.

        In the meantime, most pedophiles don't actually want to hurt children, or engage in activities that cause children grief. Child predators have, among crimes with victims one of the lowest recidivism rates. And yet they are the pariahs of society, above domestic abusers, gang-killers and rapists. Certainly amongst brutal or murderous law-enforcement officers.

        Incidentally, also missing from our program, a means to steer unwanted, neglected children (of which we have way too many) into programs of care and education and out of environments that funnel them into sex trafficking. The demand for porn in general (and all the subsets or fetishists) is consistent and more than the demand for non-prurient entertainment, but available children is an overflowing resource. If you're truly interested in chidren's welfare, there are tons of things to be done beyond disparaging pedophiles that will make an far greater difference.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 30 Jan 2015 @ 11:46am

          Re: "vile perverts"

          ...And yet [child-predators] are the pariahs of society, above domestic abusers, gang-killers and rapists. Certainly above brutal or murderous law-enforcement officers.

          Again, posting pre-coffee. Sorry, all.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    beltorak (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 7:18pm

    The waters may get even more muddy now that facebook has its own hidden service....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 7:50pm

    Thats funny, because i have a theory that says surveilance is the child play thing of tyrants!

    No!? Well i guess not everyone who uses tor is pedo or a terrorist then and does'nt deserve to be pre-suspected as one by 24/7 surveillance

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 8:22pm

    So if we want them to enforce a law against something the Think of the Children ploy seems to work. I wonder if meme labeling pictures of the worst of the out of control cops with THINK OF THE CHILDREN would work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 8:22pm

    CP Traffic

    It likely that half the CP-related traffic is law enforcement tracking down actual CP enthusiasts or law enforcement sting operations. And so the actual percent of traffic generated by enthusiasts is probably even lower than suggested in this article.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wereisjessicahyde (profile), 28 Jan 2015 @ 8:28pm

    As someone who has built a not insubstantial criminal enterprise utilising the Post Office network - you know, letters and stuff. I say down with this TOR net web stuff.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2015 @ 10:07pm

    Huge Problems

    "Tor obviously was created with good intentions, but it's a huge problem for law enforcement," Caldwell said...

    You know what else was created with good intentions and is a huge problem for law enforcement? The Constitution. 100% of child pornographers and their pedophile consumers rely on the protections of the Constitution. /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 29 Jan 2015 @ 2:51pm

      Re: Huge Problems

      we might as well get rid of free will while we are at it then. Things will be so much simpler for the police if we whatever they tell us without ever thinking about it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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