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This is What a Tor Supporter Looks Like: Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden


In mid-October, the Tor Project had an opportunity to interview Edward Snowden. Below are key excerpts from the conversation.


Tor: What would you say to a non-technical person about why they should support and care about Tor?

ES: Tor is a critical technology, not just in terms of privacy protection, but in defense of our publication right -- our ability to route around censorship and ensure that when people speak their voices can be heard.

The design of the Tor system is structured in such a way that even if the US Government wanted to subvert it, it couldn't because it's a decentralized authority. It's a volunteer based network. Nobody's getting paid to run Tor relays -- they're volunteers worldwide. And because of this, it provides a built-in structural defense against abuses and most types of adversaries.

Tor provides a level of safety, a level of guarantee, to the confidentiality, and in some cases anonymity of human communications. I think this is an incredible thing because it makes us more human. We are at the greatest peace with ourselves when nobody's watching.

Tor: Can you talk about how the world would be different if Tor did not exist?

ES: Without Tor, the streets of the Internet become like the streets of a very heavily surveilled city. There are surveillance cameras everywhere, and if the adversary simply takes enough time, they can follow the tapes back and see everything you've done.

With Tor, we have private spaces and private lives, where we can choose who we want to associate with and how, without the fear of what that is going to look like if it is abused.

What the Tor network allows is what's called a mixed routing experience where, due to a voluntary cooperation of peers around the Internet -- around the world, across borders, across jurisdictions -- you get individuals who are able to share traffic in ways that don't require them to be able to read the content of it. So you don't have to trust every participant of the Tor network to know who you are and what you're looking for.

Tor: Did you know that Tor is run by a non-profit organization?

ES: Yes, Tor has been extremely open. Almost everybody who is involved in development has an online presence; they're involved in online engagement. You can drop into the IRC and talk to these people directly and ask them questions, or criticize them (laughs). It's a very open and inclusive community, and I think that's incredibly valuable.

They also have a very rich and well-supported mailing list, which is very helpful for people who want to move beyond being a passive user of Tor and actually start being an active participant in expanding the network, in running a relay node from your home, or even starting to experiment with running an exit, which I think is one of the most interesting parts of the Tor experience.


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This is What a Tor Supporter Looks Like: Alison Macrina

Alison Macrina, Director of Library Freedom Project

Ask Alison Macrina about the Tor Project and she immediately thinks of all of the librarians who have been transformed by learning how to use the Tor Browser in her trainings through the Library Freedom Project. "You teach people how to use the Tor Browser and they are so thrilled," she says. "They are most excited when you teach them about invisible trackers, and then about how Tor creates a different circuit on every tab, protecting you from trackers who would create a trail of what you look at. This one reason why Tor is so great—it is for everyone, not just techie people."

Macrina founded Library Freedom Project for just that reason. She travels to libraries all over the United States, Canada, and increasingly internationally, educating librarians about current privacy issues.

"Helping librarians understand privacy issues impacts not just libraries but the larger community," she says. "Libraries offer public Internet terminals, and librarians like me teach free computer classes to the public. Our patrons come from all walks of life, but we tend to serve communities particularly vulnerable to surveillance (including immigrants, Muslim Americans, people of color, people who are homeless, and those who have been incarcerated) in higher numbers than in the general population."

Education about privacy tools and protecting oneself online is particularly important for these communities, Macrina adds, because they are targeted more. "One thing about using Tor is that it really does protect and allow them to move in the online world unfettered from the pernicious effects of surveillance. It makes a big difference for people’s material realities. Most people realize that the Internet is a hostile place, and to know that there really is something you can do about it, and that you can always do more—they really respond to that."

Library Freedom Project has collaborated with the Tor Project for the last year, and, due to securing some additional grant funding, LFP and the Tor Project will be working together more closely to open up Tor relays in libraries. "We get to hire Nima Fatemi, a core Tor Project person in order to scale our relay project. We will also be able to hold more advanced trainings for librarians because of Nima's expertise, and we will reach many more libraries. We feel that there is a lot of possibility here."

Both Macrina and Fatemi place a strong emphasis on strengthening the communities they serve through the FLP trainings.

"One of the most helpful things we can do to participate in the movement to protect Internet freedom globally is to run a Tor relay. We have many interested libraries who want to participate, and now we have a better capacity to serve them," Macrina says. "With Nima working more closely with Library Freedom Project, we will be able to show them the rich complexity of what Tor can offer them and their communities, that there are many options for protecting their patrons' privacy, and that there is always more that you can do. Part of our strength is all of the people who are involved in this."

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This is What a Tor Supporter Looks Like: Daniel Ellsberg

Dan Ellsberg and Patricia Marx Ellsberg, Privacy Activists

“The public, the media, and congress have tolerated, for the entire length of the Cold War and since, an extremely elaborate secrecy system in the government on the declared rationale that this is necessary for national security.

“Actually, this is largely a fraud. Secrets can be necessary from foreign enemies, but we rarely need secrecy for more than a few years. And yet the vast amount of the billions and billions of pages of classified secret documents are…decades old. The only reason for that is to protect officials: from accountability, from blame for criminal prosecution in some cases, but more often just from mistakes, from admitting error, bad predictions, deceptions of the public, disastrous policies. In other words, these documents remain classified to protect officials from the electorate, to subvert democracy essentially. And that has been the effect.

“The price of maintaining this lack of responsibility and accountability was Vietnam, and the Iraq war. Had there been an Ed Snowden or a Chelsea Manning at high levels in the government in let’s say, 2001 or 2002, there would have been no Iraq war.

“Likewise, had I thought of putting out what I knew already in 1964 and 1965 to the press—what I did 5 years later in the Pentagon Papers—there would have been no Vietnam War. Future disasters lie ahead unless whistleblowers do emerge who can communicate securely and safely with media and get the information out to the public.

“Tor permits the possibility of the continuation of whistle-blowing. That really means the continuation of investigative journalism in the area of so-called national security, and that in turn means the recapture or preservation of democracy, of the first amendment. You can’t have a democratic government with as little public information as the government now allows us. That has to change. We need more whistle blowers—more Mannings, more Snowdens—and that is not going to happen with the government’s current capability to trace and listen to every source, every journalist, every congressional staffer, through capabilities that simply didn’t exist for the East German secret police, the Stasi. The government now has capabilities the Stasi couldn’t even imagine, the possibility for a total authoritarian control.

“The counter to that is courage, because putting out information that the government doesn’t want told…will never be without risk. There has to be courage. But to limit the risks and make that more accessible we have to have the ability for secure, safe, anonymous communication, to congressional staff, to the media, to the public at large. And that is what Tor facilitates. So I would say that the future, the future of democracy, and not only in this country, depends upon countering the abilities of this government and every other government in this world to know everything about our private lives while they keep secret everything about what they’re doing officially.”

— Dan Ellsberg

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This is What a Tor Supporter Looks Like: Ben Wizner



Ben Wizner

Ben Wizner, in thinking about the ways that Tor facilitates his work, is very clear: “It’s not an overstatement to say that secure technology such as Tor has made the ACLU’s work with Edward Snowden possible, “ he says.

Like Laura Poitras, using encryption was a learning process for Wizner, facilitated by key teachers, the first of whom was Laura herself.

“I was someone who went through most of my life unaware of these tools,” he says. “Laura (Poitras) came to my office in 2011 and installed Adium for me. `This is how we are going to communicate,” she said. “And this will help you communicate with the rest of the world as well.”

Jacob Appelbaum, Chris Soghoian, Renata Avila, and Daniel Kahn Gillmor were all instrumental to Wizner as he followed a similar learning curve to Poitras, quickly becoming familiar with Tor, PGP, Tails and Signal for many aspects of his work as Director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology project. It was his next teacher that, as he says, “gets us to the heart of the story. Starting in July 2013 I had a need to be able to communicate securely with Edward Snowden.”

From the start, as Ben aided Snowden with legal advice, he learned from him as well.

“[I was…] dealing with someone who is a world-class security technologist and also an excellent and very patient teacher,” he says. “I was entering a mode of communication where he felt extremely at home and I did not. This was going to be the only means of communication for an unknown length of time and we needed to exchange critical information, get to know each other and build trust, all while I am hunting and pecking on this tiny burner keyboard. And I have learned over the months and years how profound and intimate a chat conversation can be.”

Somehow it worked, and worked so well in fact, that meeting Snowden in person was a different experience for Wizner that he had expected.

“That was the surprising thing,” he says. “Even though we had gotten to know each other so well over so many hours of online conversation, I still had the expectation that our real relationship would begin when we met face to face. And yet it turned out to be a continuation rather than a new chapter.”

Wizner thinks often about the role that secure technology continues to play in both providing the foundation for their work together, and more broadly, in Ed’s continued participation in the larger dialogue around encryption.

“On one level, secure technology like Tor and Tails, has allowed Ed to defeat exile in a really profound way. Physical isolation has been imposed, but Ed is able to continue communicating to larger audiences from wherever he is. All of the legal and strategic advice,” he adds, “that goes into making these opportunities available and accessible for him would not be possible without using secure communications tools like Tor.”

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This is What a Tor Supporter Looks Like: Cory Doctorow



Cory Doctorow and family

I've been using Tor for more than a decade. I travel all the time, and often find myself connected to manifestly untrustworthy networks -- from the nets at hacker conferences to the one the Chinese government provided for our use at a World Economic Forum event in Dalian. Tor is my assurance that I'm browsing safely, privately and anonymously. When I do investigative journalism work on national security subjects, my go-to first line of defense is Torbrowser.

That why we at Boing Boing operate a high speed, high quality exit node. By the way, just this year we received two law enforcement requests for records relating to that node, and despite all the doomsaying about how the cops would punish you for operating an anonymizing tool, in both cases, we sent polite letters explaining that we don't keep logs, and in both cases, the cops returned a polite thanks and went away.

I donate to Tor, and I trust Tor, but even if I didn't trust 'em, I'd still use it. The great thing about free/open projects like Tor is that they're designed to work even if the people who make them don't agree with you or want what's best for you.

Make a donation today!

Tor Browser 5.5a5-hardened is released

We are pleased to announce the second release in our hardened Tor Browser series. The download can be found in the 5.5a5-hardened distribution directory and on the download page for hardened builds.

This release features important security updates to Firefox.

Additionally, we included updated versions for Tor (0.2.7.6), OpenSSL (1.0.1q) and NoScript (2.7). Moreover, we fixed an annoying bug in our circuit display (circuits weren't visible sometimes), isolated SharedWorkers to the first-party domain and improved our font fingerprinting defense.

On the usability side we improved the about:tor experience and started to use the bundled changelog to display new features and bug fixes after an update (instead of loading the blog post into a new tab). We'd love to hear feedback about both.

On the hardening side we are compiling Firefox with -fwrapv now. This is mitigating possible issues with some types of undefined behavior in Mozilla's code.

Tor Browser 5.5a5-hardened comes with a banner supporting our donations campaign. The banner is visible on the about:tor page and features either Roger Dingledine, Laura Poitras or Cory Doctorow which is chosen randomly.

Note: There are no incremental updates from 5.5a4-hardened available this time due to a bug we detected while building. The internal updater should work, though, doing a complete update.

Here is the complete changelog since 5.5a4-hardened:

  • Update Firefox to 38.5.0esr
  • Update Tor to 0.2.7.6
  • Update OpenSSL to 1.0.1q
  • Update NoScript to 2.7
  • Update Torbutton to 1.9.4.2
    • Bug 16940: After update, load local change notes
    • Bug 16990: Avoid matching '250 ' to the end of node name
    • Bug 17565: Tor fundraising campaign donation banner
    • Bug 17770: Fix alignments on donation banner
    • Bug 17792: Include donation banner in some non en-US Tor Browsers
    • Bug 17108: Polish about:tor appearance
    • Bug 17568: Clean up tor-control-port.js
    • Translation updates
  • Update Tor Launcher to 0.2.8.1
    • Bug 17344: Enumerate available language packs for language prompt
    • Code clean-up
    • Translation updates
  • Bug 12516: Compile Tor Browser with -fwrapv
  • Bug 9659: Avoid loop due to optimistic data SOCKS code (fix of #3875)
  • Bug 15564: Isolate SharedWorkers by first-party domain
  • Bug 16940: After update, load local change notes
  • Bug 17759: Apply whitelist to local fonts in @font-face (fix of #13313)
  • Bug 17747: Add ndnop3 as new default obfs4 bridge
  • Bug 17009: Shift and Alt keys leak physical keyboard layout (fix of #15646)
  • Bug 17369: Disable RC4 fallback
  • Bug 17442: Remove custom updater certificate pinning
  • Bug 16863: Avoid confusing error when loop.enabled is false
  • Bug 17502: Add a preference for hiding "Open with" on download dialog
  • Bug 17446: Prevent canvas extraction by third parties (fixup of #6253)
  • Bug 16441: Suppress "Reset Tor Browser" prompt

Tor Browser 5.5a5 is released

A new alpha Tor Browser release is available for download in the 5.5a5 distribution directory and on the alpha download page.

This release features important security updates to Firefox.

Additionally, we included updated versions for Tor (0.2.7.6), OpenSSL (1.0.1q) and NoScript (2.7). Moreover, we fixed an annoying bug in our circuit display (circuits weren't visible sometimes), isolated SharedWorkers to the first-party domain and improved our font fingerprinting defense.

On the usability side we improved the about:tor experience and started to use the bundled changelog to display new features and bug fixes after an update (instead of loading the blog post into a new tab). We'd love to hear feedback about both.

Tor Browser 5.5a5 comes with a banner supporting our donations campaign. The banner is visible on the about:tor page and features either Roger Dingledine, Laura Poitras or Cory Doctorow which is chosen randomly.

Here is the complete changelog since 5.5a4:

  • All Platforms
    • Update Firefox to 38.5.0esr
    • Update Tor to 0.2.7.6
    • Update OpenSSL to 1.0.1q
    • Update NoScript to 2.7
    • Update Torbutton to 1.9.4.2
      • Bug 16940: After update, load local change notes
      • Bug 16990: Avoid matching '250 ' to the end of node name
      • Bug 17565: Tor fundraising campaign donation banner
      • Bug 17770: Fix alignments on donation banner
      • Bug 17792: Include donation banner in some non en-US Tor Browsers
      • Bug 17108: Polish about:tor appearance
      • Bug 17568: Clean up tor-control-port.js
      • Translation updates
    • Bug 9659: Avoid loop due to optimistic data SOCKS code (fix of #3875)
    • Bug 15564: Isolate SharedWorkers by first-party domain
    • Bug 16940: After update, load local change notes
    • Bug 17759: Apply whitelist to local fonts in @font-face (fix of #13313)
    • Bug 17747: Add ndnop3 as new default obfs4 bridge
    • Bug 17009: Shift and Alt keys leak physical keyboard layout (fix of #15646)
    • Bug 17369: Disable RC4 fallback
    • Bug 17442: Remove custom updater certificate pinning
    • Bug 16863: Avoid confusing error when loop.enabled is false
    • Bug 17502: Add a preference for hiding "Open with" on download dialog
    • Bug 17446: Prevent canvas extraction by third parties (fixup of #6253)
    • Bug 16441: Suppress "Reset Tor Browser" prompt
  • Windows
    • Bug 13819: Ship expert bundles with console enabled
    • Bug 17250: Fix broken Japanese fonts
  • OS X
    • Bug 17661: Whitelist font .Helvetica Neue DeskInterface

Tor Browser 5.0.6 is released

A new stable release for Tor Browser is available from the Tor Browser Project page and also from our distribution directory.

This release features important security updates to Firefox which we missed in our update to Tor Browser 5.0.5. We are sorry for this inconvenience.

This change is the only one in the changelog since 5.0.5:

  • All Platforms
    • Bug 17877: Tor Browser 5.0.5 is using the wrong Mozilla build tag

The changes made in 5.0.5 are the following:

  • All Platforms
    • Update Firefox to 38.5.0esr
    • Update Tor to 0.2.7.6
    • Update OpenSSL to 1.0.1q
    • Update NoScript to 2.7
    • Update HTTPS Everywhere to 5.1.1
    • Update Torbutton to 1.9.3.7
      • Bug 16990: Avoid matching '250 ' to the end of node name
      • Bug 17565: Tor fundraising campaign donation banner
      • Bug 17770: Fix alignments on donation banner
      • Bug 17792: Include donation banner in some non en-US Tor Browsers
      • Translation updates
    • Bug 17207: Hide MIME types and plugins from websites
    • Bug 16909+17383: Adapt to HTTPS-Everywhere build changes
    • Bug 16863: Avoid confusing error when loop.enabled is false
    • Bug 17502: Add a preference for hiding "Open with" on download dialog
    • Bug 17446: Prevent canvas extraction by third parties (fixup of #6253)
    • Bug 17747: Add ndnop3 as new default obfs4 bridge
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