Lawmakers in the UK are currently closing in on their newest and most comprehensive legal regime for mass-surveillance since the Snowden revelations.
UK’s Investigatory Powers bill seems very near towards being signed as a law, yet a determined network engineer will not easily surrender privacy in the surveillance fight and makes good use of Tor.
Former Home Secretary and UK’s current Prime Minister Theresa May champions the Investigatory Powers bill also called the Snooper’s Charter.
Amidst legislative scrutiny, wide-ranging snooping powers hastily rush through parliament.
The bill aims to implement mass government surveillance throughout the UK, thus legitimizing most programs exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The Investigatory Powers Bill Provisions
The bill introduces new powers for law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the UK for targeted and bulk interception of communications and bulk collection of communications data.
Among other things, the controversial proposal includes requiring all ISPs in the UK to keep tabs on customers’ internet activities.
Internet service providers are forced to retain Internet Connection Records for one year, and to hand-collected data over to authorities upon request.
Police and intelligence officers will be allowed to see the ICRs as part of an investigation without needing a warrant whatsoever.
Furthermore, they will be permitted to hack into computers or devices in order to access data and to perform bulk equipment interference for national security matters linked to foreign investigations.
OnionDSL and Tor
As lawmakers prepare to vote for final amendments, network engineer Gareth Llewelyn readies his countermeasure.
He has started creating his own ISP system which runs on the Tor anonymity network earlier during the year.
Now he’s come up with a non-profit, one-man, Tor-based internet service provider called Brass Horn Communications.
He presented the OnionDSL system based on Tor last month in New York at the HOPE (Hackers On Planet Earth) conference.
Llewelyn’s goal? To design a system that will make it technically impossible for the government to censor content.
It will frustrate their mass-surveillance regime and won’t have to comply with mandatory government requests on data retention.
Unlike normal ISPs, the Brass Horn routing system prevents the ISP that’s run over Tor from keeping any web browsing logs whatsoever.
To avail the service, a broadband connection must be physically migrated over to Brass Horn Communications.
A subscriber’s home router or PC must be configured to connect with the Tor bridge private gateway.
Traffic then bounces as it normally would across the Tor network, effectively anonymizing internet activities.
Given the way it works, Llewelyn’s system can only see the subscriber’s router transiting the dedicated bridge for Tor network access, and all other details are completely masked.
Judges argue that a typical Tor relay is, in fact, a third party. In order to connect to relays, Tor users would have to expose their publicly identifiable address when routing over the internet.
In Llewelyn’s OnionDSL model, no user information is exposed to third parties for all connections are privately tunneled through a dedicated Tor bridge.
It’s noteworthy that there is no identifiable IP address to expose in the first place.
During his talk at HOPE, the engineer tells that his ISP run through Tor is not a good idea for everyone, for those who dare to ask for a “special connection that no one can spy on” as he goes about using the internet will only get red-flagged.
Llewelyn describes his Tor-based project more of a proof-of-concept in protest against mass surveillance laws but says he’ll launch the service if he could actually raise enough crowdfunding money.
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