Library Suspends Tor Node After DHS Intimidation
Update September 15, 2015: The Kilton Library board has met and, after hearing from Tor supporters in the community and the 4,314 people who signed our petition, have unanimously opted to reinstate the library's relay. Congratulations to the activists from the Tor Project and the Library Freedom Project who've worked on this effort.
The Kilton Public Library in Lebanon, New Hampshire, is not unusual in its commitment to the freedom to read in privacy. That commitment is shared by libraries all over the world, and written into the basic character of librarianship through documents like the American Library Association's “Freedom to Read Statement.” What's exceptional about Kilton, though, is it was selected by the Library Freedom Project and The Tor Project as the pilot location for a program to install Tor relays, and eventually exit nodes, in public libraries all over.
Libraries and Tor are a great match: Tor's software can help provide the technological underpinnings for the privacy and intellectual freedom that libraries seek to foster, and libraries can provide the institutional support that can make long-lived high-bandwidth nodes possible.
But that effort has attracted some powerful critics: just days after Kilton announced its participation in the program, a regional Department of Homeland Security office contacted the local police to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about Tor. The police got in touch with the library board, who suspended the program until they could vote on it on September 15.
Nima Fatemi, a Tor core developer and one of the originators of the libraries program, explained why libraries should stand up to that kind of law enforcement intimidation: “Libraries are one of the few entities around the world that actually care about freedom of speech and it's one of the core values of Tor.”
Fatemi is right about the link between libraries and freedom of speech—librarians have consistently been at the forefront of many important First Amendment battles. It's one reason EFF took the unusual step of honoring “Librarians Everywhere” with a Pioneer Award in 2000.
It's important that the library board hears from people who actually understand and value those qualities in an important privacy-enhancing tool like Tor. To that end, EFF joined a long list of signatories on a letter of support to the board, encouraging them to stand up for librarian ideals and reinstate the Tor relay.
And they need to hear from you, too. We've set up a page to allow members of the public to sign a statement of support, which our allies in the Library Freedom Project and The Tor Project will deliver to the September 15 meeting. Over 1,500 people have already signed—please lend your voice to that effort today.
As Fatemi puts it, “We respect whatever decision the library makes but are optimistic that they will make the right one with the support of the community and keep their relay online.”
We're also seeking more information about how and why the Department of Homeland Security is discouraging the use of Tor—and undermining the privacy and security of people who rely on it. EFF has filed a FOIA request seeking more information, and will publish news when we get it.