Tor relay reinstated in the Kilton Library: a win for free software-based anonymity

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Dear free software supporter,

In July, Kilton Library in Lebanon, New Hampshire set up a relay server in the Tor network, which lets Internet users surf the Web anonymously. Tor is relied on every day by whistleblowers, journalists, and dissidents in oppressive regimes, and each relay makes the network stronger. This was the first time a library had set up a relay, and the FSF was excited to see a public institution participating.

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Read the letter in support of Kilton Library’s Tor node.

However, things took a turn for the worse this month when the US government’s Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement intimidated the library into shutting down the relay (also known as a node). In response, the FSF, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and others signed a public letter supporting the library and its Tor initiative. Even more importantly, local patrons of Kilton Library crammed a public hearing yesterday to express their conviction that the relay should be reactivated. The campaign worked and, as of Thursday September 16th, the relay is running again!

Tor relies on thousands of relay servers worldwide, which route traffic in tricky ways to dodge surveillance and circumvent censorship. The more relays, the stronger and faster the network, and more are always needed. That’s why Alison Macrina of the Library Freedom Project and Nima Fatemi, a Tor developer, are working to launch nodes in American libraries. Kilton was the pilot for this project.

This isn’t the first time that law enforcement has worked to shut down a Tor relay — in fact, it’s common for those who run relays to be harassed by police. The stated justification is usually that anonymity software can be used by criminals, but by that argument, roads should also be illegal because some people drive drunk.

The FSF has long supported the Tor project in its effort provide free software-based anonymity. We run a Tor middle relay on one of our servers, and have been partners with Tor and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in holding the Tor Challenge, an initiative to encourage people to run Tor nodes. In 2010 we awarded Tor the Free Software Award for Projects of Social Benefit.

Our support for Tor is connected to our work to fight bulk surveillance and its pernicious effects on computer users’ rights. This is a historic moment in that battle, and a major success. Expect to see more Tor relays in libraries soon! If you think your local library would be interested in running a relay, check out the Library Freedom Project’s resources to get started.

Zak Rogoff
Campaigns Manager

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