Tor Project Runs Away From Public Questions at 32c3

A quick note from 32c3...

I was looking forward to this year's State of the Onion address. At this point it has become an institution — an event in which Tor's leadership updates their loyal fans about what's going on in the project, the ways in which they've fought off threats from evil government forces, and all the ways that Tor will continue to fight for liberty and freedom on the Internet. The State of the Onion is usually followed by a Q&A session, which provides an opportunity to the Tor community to put questions directly to Tor's leaders and coders.

But this year was different. This year, Tor got rid of the Q&A session and showed a ridiculous propaganda video instead: George Orwell telling people to fight for freedom and human rights online by using Tor and encryption.

By the looks on their faces, the audience loved the video. Tor knows its demographic, and knows how to please. But I see the removal of a public comments section as yet another cowardly move by Tor. It's an attempt to escape tough questions from journalists about the nature of the org's funding. Public discussion of Tor's NatSec ties in front of thousands of hard core Tor supporters and users would not fit well into the anti-state, pro-freedom narrative that dominated the rest of the address. It would complicate the issue and maybe put another chink in Tor's fragile radical armor.

I couldn't ask my question directly, so I'm publishing it here. It's a question about the giant contradiction at the heart of the Tor Project:

There was a lot of talk on stage today about using Tor as a tool of freedom and liberty on the Internet. But there is another side of Tor that was never mentioned: Tor as a regime change weapon — a tool of soft power used by the United States government to destabilize countries it considers hostile to its economic interests: Iran, China, Russia, Belorussia. This regime change function is why Tor continues to receive over 90 percent of its funding from US government agencies like the State Department and the Pentagon, agencies that are responsible for so much of the death and destruction in the world today.

So my question is: How do you people at Tor reconcile these two sides of your product? Is Tor about Internet Freedom? Or is it about empire and regime change?

I also sent this to Tor's official press email account. But I don't expect to hear back. Tor's policy is now to talk only to reporters who it considers friendly to the cause.

—Yasha Levine

Read more: blog

< Back