Irish politician Patrick O'Donovan of the Fine Gael party has called for a crackdown on open-source browsers, calling them a gateway to an 'online black market' filled with 'illegal goods such as drugs, weapons and pornography' - but may, perhaps, be merely confused as to his terminology.
Fine Gael TD for Limerick, O'Donovan is by background an industrial chemist and the youngest Fine Gael Group Leader in the group's history - but that hasn't stopped him from apparently claiming that open source technologies are the root of all that is evil in the digital world.
'An online black market is operating which protects the users’ anonymity and operates across borders through the use of open source internet browers [sic] and payments systems which allow users to remain anonymous,
' claimed O'Donovan in a statement published to the Fine Gael website
'This effectively operates as an online supermarket for illegal goods such as drugs, weapons and pornography, where it is extremely difficult to trace the identity of the buyers. We need a national and international response to clamp down on this illicit trade.
O'Donovan appears to have confused the issue of the TOR Project, an open-source effort to create an anonymising proxy network from volunteer machines, with open-source web browsers like Firefox and Chromium - the former of which has been put forward as a champion against NSA intrusion
thanks to its easily-accessible source code and ongoing code validation programme.
TOR, it's true, allows access to otherwise hidden portions of the internet which play host to illegal and unsavoury content, including mail-order services for drugs and weapons. It also, it must be added, gives citizens of totalitarian regimes a means to bypass blacklists and access otherwise banned information sources like the BBC and Wikipedia, and a way for human rights workers and whistleblowers to communicate without fearing for their lives.
Quite what TOR has to do with open source browsers, then, is unclear - but O'Donovan is adamant that something must be done. 'I also intend to raise the matter in the Dáil with both the Ministers for Justice and Communications, with a view to seek assurances that an EU-wide response is developed to respond to the operation of open-source internet browsers which protect anonymity in order to facilitate illegal online activity.
Perhaps the most obvious clue that O'Donovan is really talking about TOR - which is by no means a web browser, although can be downloaded with a tweaked copy of Firefox as the Tor Browser Bundle - comes in his closing paragraph: 'Law enforcement agencies in the United States have recently taken action to address this issue, however it appears the solution was temporary as replacement browsers quickly appeared to ensure the continuance of the illegal trade.
' The closest to O'Donovan's uncited proclamation is the closure of Silk Road, a notorious TOR-based black market site, which soon recovered from the arrest of its founder and started up once again alongside numerous copycat sites.
At the time of writing, O'Donovan had not responded to a request for clarification regarding his statement.