A mirror of the BBC News website has been launched on a ‘dark web’ browser to make it available to those living under repressive regimes.

It will be launched on the Tor network (short for ‘The Onion Router’), a browser that allows the user to remain anonymous while using the internet.

By creating this ‘dark web’ version of their international news site, they hope to ensure they can bring their free-press to citizens in countries that have previously attempted to censor it, such as China, Iran and Vietnam.

Flow diagram explaining the Tor network. Image: Beth Hanson

What is the Tor network?

The Tor network was developed by the US Navy to protect sensitive information. It does this by encasing users data in layers of encryption (hence the onion) and directing the data through several networks worldwide.

This allows people to conceal their identity, location and information, essentially make them untraceable when searching online.

With privacy so hard to come by in the 21st century, it has become incredibly popular with more than two million people using it each day according to The Tor Project.

The Tor network has also been praised by many for allowing political dissidents, activists and whistle-blowers freedom to communicate with the world without suffering from repercussions. 

The Tor network can be used to access the ‘dark web’, part of the internet that cannot be seen through standard web browsers. 

While there are obvious benefits to it being free of government and corporate surveillance, this also creates many problems. The ‘dark web’ is often used to engage in criminal activity such as drugs and arms dealing, illegal pornography and fraud. 

In this sense, it represents a peculiar case-study into the pros and cons of total privacy in modern life. 

Why is the BBC making use of it?

The BBC News site was temporarily blocked in China in 2014 and then again last year. 

While this is just part of the broader issue of online censorship in China (where an exhaustive list of banned sites include Google, Wikipedia, Facebook and Youtube), the new BBC Tor site will allow Chinese citizens increased freedom of information without the risk of repercussions.

Since 2002 the BBC World Service website has been intermittently blocked in Vietnam and similarly in Iran access to the BBC has been limited.

A BBC statement said it hopes this Tor mirror will thwart censorship attempts.

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