Tor at the Heart: Notes from a Board Member
During the month of December, we're highlighting other organizations and projects that rely on Tor, build on Tor, or are accomplishing their missions better because Tor exists. Check out our blog each day to learn about our fellow travelers. And please support the Tor Project! We're at the heart of Internet freedom.
Tor Saves Lives
by Cindy Cohn
I joined the Tor Board of Directors because Tor saves lives.
By allowing people to access knowledge, share information, organize and find communities of support in otherwise hostile environments, Tor represents one of the strongest examples of how technology can be marshaled to serve the causes of freedom, safety, liberty and human rights for people around the world. It’s easy enough to say: “speak truth to power” when the risks are low. To ensure that people can really do that in today’s digital world – where the stakes can be much, much higher – often requires some technical assistance. That’s where Tor comes in.
Before I started fighting for freedom online, I was a human rights lawyer. I spent time at the United Nations and helped organize a small NGO, called the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, which serves as a central hub for oppressed groups seeking a voice internationally. Its members range from the Ogoni in Nigeria to Tibetans to West Papuans. I saw first hand how hard it is to sneak information about human rights abuses out of repressive countries and how important it is to build networks of support inside and outside of those environments.
This experience is why, when I first learned about Tor, I immediately saw how it sits at the heart of ensuring that the world we’re building with digital technologies can be at least as much, if not more humane than the physical world. In addition to helping those facing government repression, Tor also serves as protection closer to home, and even inside the home for those seeking information and assistance to escape from domestic abuse. Tor of course has other uses, some good and some rotten, but that’s no different than most technologies. Even a hammer can be used to hit someone over the head. The difference is in what we do with it.
So when Shari Steele and I talked about how to usher Tor into its next phase, I offered to join with her to do it.
I have a core belief that those of us with access to power – be it personal, technical, legal or situational – have a duty to try to steer it toward empowering the people in the rest of the world to live better, safer and more free lives. That Tor exists demonstrates that many others share this core belief. The knowledge that there is a large posse of us building and supporting these tools, along with the courage shown by those who rely on Tor, keeps me energized.
There’s no doubt that a strong, well-run Tor can help more people. While the work of ensuring that the organization stays strong, stays on course, pays its bills and treats people well isn’t always the glamorous part, it’s necessary. For me, helping Tor do that well is how I help Tor save lives.
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