15 September 2015

Live in Obedient Fear, Citizen

A small library in Lebanon, New Hampshire decided set up TOR on its network.

This was just shut down as a result of threats from the Department of Homeland Security:
Since Edward Snowden exposed the extent of online surveillance by the U.S. government, there has been a surge of initiatives to protect users’ privacy.

But it hasn’t taken long for one of these efforts — a project to equip local libraries with technology supporting anonymous Internet surfing — to run up against opposition from law enforcement.

In July, the Kilton Public Library in Lebanon, New Hampshire, was the first library in the country to become part of the anonymous Web surfing service Tor. The library allowed Tor users around the world to bounce their Internet traffic through the library, thus masking users’ locations.

Soon after state authorities received an email about it from an agent at the Department of Homeland Security.

“The Department of Homeland Security got in touch with our Police Department,” said Sean Fleming, the library director of the Lebanon Public Libraries.

After a meeting at which local police and city officials discussed how Tor could be exploited by criminals, the library pulled the plug on the project.

“Right now we’re on pause,” said Fleming. “We really weren’t anticipating that there would be any controversy at all.”


After Macrina conducted a privacy training session at the Kilton library in May, she talked to the librarian about also setting up a Tor relay, the mechanism by which users across the Internet can hide their identity.

The library board of trustees unanimously approved the plan at its meeting in June, and the relay was set up in July. But after ArsTechnica wrote about the pilot project and Macrina’s plan to install Tor relays in libraries across the nation, law enforcement got involved.

A special agent in a Boston DHS office forwarded the article to the New Hampshire police, who forwarded it to a sergeant at the Lebanon Police Department.

DHS spokesman Shawn Neudauer said the agent was simply providing “visibility/situational awareness,” and did not have any direct contact with the Lebanon police or library. “The use of a Tor browser is not, in [or] of itself, illegal and there are legitimate purposes for its use,” Neudauer said, “However, the protections that Tor offers can be attractive to criminal enterprises or actors and HSI [Homeland Security Investigations] will continue to pursue those individuals who seek to use the anonymizing technology to further their illicit activity.”

When the DHS inquiry was brought to his attention, Lt. Matthew Isham of the Lebanon Police Department was concerned. “For all the good that a Tor may allow as far as speech, there is also the criminal side that would take advantage of that as well,” Isham said. “We felt we needed to make the city aware of it.”
For those who don't speak the language of law enforcement threats, "Needed to make the city aware of it," means, "Threatening to link public officials to child porn."

The action taken by the library is legal, and is very much in the tradition of libraries promoting the free exchange of information, but the US state security apparatus cannot tolerate this, even though the US government is the largest single funder of this network.


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