New York – A United Nations agency is quietly drafting technical standards, proposed by the Chinese government, to define methods of tracing the original source of Internet communications and potentially curbing the ability of users to remain anonymous.
The U.S. National Security Agency is also participating in the “IP Traceback” drafting group, named Q6/17, which is meeting next week in Geneva to work on the traceback proposal. Members of Q6/17 have declined to release key documents, and meetings are closed to the public.
The potential for eroding Internet users’ right to remain anonymous, which is protected by law in the United States and recognized in international law by groups such as the Council of Europe, has alarmed some technologists and privacy advocates. Also affected may be services such as the Tor anonymizing network.
“What’s distressing is that it doesn’t appear that there’s been any real consideration of how this type of capability could be misused,” said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C. “That’s really a human rights concern.”
Nearly everyone agrees that there are, at least in some circumstances, legitimate security reasons to uncover the source of Internet communications. The most common justification for tracebacks is to counter distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attacks.
But implementation details are important, and governments participating in the process – organized by the International Telecommunication Union, a U.N. agency – may have their own agendas.
A document submitted by China this spring and obtained by CNET News said the “IP traceback mechanism is required to be adapted to various network environments, such as different addressing (IPv4 and IPv6), different access methods (wire and wireless) and different access technologies (ADSL, cable, Ethernet) and etc.” It adds: “To ensure traceability, essential information of the originator should be logged.”
The Chinese author of the document, Huirong Tian, did not respond to repeated interview requests. Neither did Jiayong Chen of China’s state-owned ZTE Corporation, the vice chairman of the Q6/17’s parent group who suggested in an April 2007 meeting that it address IP traceback.