LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02:  A staff member stands in a projection of live data feeds from (L-R) Twitter, Instagram and Transport for London by data visualisation studio Tekja at the Big Bang Data exhibition at Somerset House on December 2, 2015 in London, England. The show highlights the data explosion that's radically transforming our lives. It opens on December 3, 2015 and runs until February 28, 2016 at Somerset House.  (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for Somerset House)

Most People Want the Dark Net Shut Down: Study

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Seventy-percent of global citizens say the “dark net” (where user anonymity makes it the Internet’s “seedy underbelly”) should be shut down, and another 70 percent also say law-enforcement agencies should be able to access the online communications of its citizens, according to a new report. If the individual is suspected of a crime, that number goes up to 85 percent.

These are some of the findings of a new series of reports on Internet security and trust from market research company Ipsos and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), a non-partisan, Toronto-based think tank.

The question of whether authorities should have access to data stored by third-parties has been a hot topic in light of Apple’s highly contentious refusal to assist the FBI in unlocking an iPhone owned by one of the suspects in the San Bernardino killings.

Surveillance by Association

Eighty-percent of Americans polled said governments should be able to find out who their suspects communicated with online, putting them below the world average of 85 percent and well below countries like Nigeria (95 percent) and Tunisia (93 percent).

Attitudes Towards Encryption

Whether companies should be allowed to develop technologies (like encryption) that prevent law enforcement from accessing the content of an individual’s online conversations was a little more contentious – and differs across regions. Those in China and India (at 74 percent respectively) are most likely to be in favor of companies being able to develop ways to block government surveillance of their data. And residents of North America (60 percent of Americans, and 57 percent of Canadians) are least likely to be in favor of companies using technologies to block government access.

Read more: Backdoor Access to US Data Would do Nothing to Stop Availability of Encryption: Report

Most See the Dark Net in a Bad Light

Among respondents of the 24 countries polled, 71 percent agreed (36 percent strongly and 35 percent somewhat) that the dark net should be shut down. Those in Indonesia (85 percent) and India (82 percent) are most in favor of shutting down the dark net.

Read more: Researchers: Despite Abuse, Darknets Should be Legal

The study authors reasoned that those who don’t want the dark net to be closed must value the concepts of anonymity and privacy. After all, the core principle of “onion routing” that’s central to the anonymity of the dark net was developed by the US Naval Research Lab, and has been used to communicate in oppressive regimes. The dark net, in many ways, is a place on the web free of surveillance, censorship, and government control that some believe should not be given up because of security concerns.

Do People Think Their Activity is Being Watched or Censored?

Among those surveyed, fewer than half (46 percent) trust (13 percent completely and 34 percent somewhat) that their activities on the internet are not censored, and even fewer (38 percent) trust that their activities on the internet are not monitored. Those in India and Pakistan were most likely to believe their activity was not being censored or monitored.

The researchers have not yet released how citizens feel about this surveillance.

The survey data is from late last year just following the Paris terrorist attacks. The link between terrorism and technology that allows for anonymity may be overblown given that it seems terrorists are largely uninterested in the dark web. But still, the dark net and, indeed, tools that protect an individual’s privacy from the state are seen as overwhelmingly bad things.

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About the Author

David Hamilton is a technology journalist and Contributing Editor of the WHIR. Based in Toronto, David has covered the hosting industry internationally for the WHIR with particular attention to innovative hosting solutions and the issues facing the industry. He has written for the National Post and other news outlets, and is a graduate of Queen’s University and the Humber College School of Media Studies.

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