Over the weekend accusations surfaced that Comcast has been threatening Tor users with termination of service. According to reports, Comcast subscribers claimed that agents from the company instructed subscribers that use of the highly popular Tor browser was “illegal” and against the giant ISP’s user policies. And let’s get one thing straight right now: Tor isn’t illegal. In fact, the Tor browser is used by academics, activists, regular Internet users, and even law enforcement.
If these accusations were true, then Comcast would not only be acting contrary to the principles of net neutrality, but would also potentially infringe on millions of users’ legitimate need to use the Internet without disclosing their IP address.
Comcast doesn’t have the best record when it comes to modifying, throttling, and even blocking its users’ traffic. For instance, in 2007 the company was caught throttling encrypted traffic from peer-to-peer file sharing sites including BitTorrent, sparking net neutrality conversations that lead to FCC rules back in 2010. And to be clear, the company issued a denial when those accusations surfaced, despite the fact that they were actually engaging in the censorious behavior.
The Tor Project offers a web browser that allows anyone to use the Internet while obfuscating the location of the user, and keeping traffic encrypted and secure en route, thus enabling a level of anonymity. Tor is highly popular in countries with pervasive Internet censorship and surveillance, allowing users to circumvent government firewalls while hiding the origin of their traffic.
What’s more, the browser is a staple for journalists, activists, people in witness protection programs, and everyday users who are safer and more confident online with the level of anonymity Tor provides. In fact, at EFF we encourage the use of Tor and hope that people continue to set up relays to help make the network more robust.
This morning Comcast issued a statement denying that the ISP is blocking Tor and denying that there is any record of exchanges between Comcast and Tor users. The Vice President went as far as to say that he also uses Tor at times, adding, “Comcast doesn’t monitor our customer’s browser software, web surfing or online history.”
But considering the fact that Comcast hasn’t always been completely transparent about its network practices, we still invite Internet users to contact us if they’ve been discouraged from using Tor by any Internet service provider. To do so, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story.
It’s also worth noting that today is the final day that the FCC is accepting public comments in the net neutrality proceeding. Please join us in calling on the FCC to enact meaningful net neutrality rules that would prohibit this kind of alleged discrimination against privacy-enhancing technology in the future. Visit DearFCC.org right now to make your voice heard.