Study: What is the value of anonymous communication?
Drexel University researchers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are recruiting Tor users for an interview study to see how they use Tor while creating things online—how they write blog posts, edit Wikipedia articles, contribute to open source projects on GitHub, post on discussion forums, comment on news articles, Tweet, write reviews, and many other things.
The researchers want to investigate the ways in which various limits, like CAPTCHAs, or even blocking access to sites entirely, inhibit or don’t inhibit Tor users’ ability to create things online. They hope to identify times when people are forced to modify their behavior to achieve the privacy they want. They want to measure the value of anonymous participation and then begin to talk to service providers and others to optimize the participation of Tor users.
“By understanding the contributions that Tor users make, we can help make a case for the value of anonymity online,” said Associate Professor Rachel Greenstadt, an investigator on the study.
The researchers are also interested in hearing from Tor users about other impediments to their anonymous participation that they have encountered while online.
“It’s critical for online projects to support contributions from anyone eager to participate,” said Assistant Professor Andrea Forte, principal investigator.
> Go, Dragons!
No relation to 220.127.116.11/24 I presume?
Dear Andrea and Rachel:
You didn't say it, so with your permission, I will:
Published research studies which tend to
* debunk the Comey/Putin narrative ("All Tor users are current or future cybercriminals"),
* present a positive view of Tor (as a tool used to create good things for other people everywhere),
are desirable because they can
* help to make Tor more mainstream, and thus harder for Comey/Putin to destroy,
* assist Tor's fund-raisers in quelling fears from potential non-USG funding sources that they might be prosecuted by the US DOJ for abetting "terrorism".
But there are potential dangers also and I think it is crucial that potential participants in your survey be aware of these, and that you (the researchers) attempt to pro-actively address them.
When researchers issue such appeals I think it is critically important to be fully transparent about who is funding the research, and how potentially dangerous raw survey data will stored, controlled, and divulged (or not) to third parties.
Some questions you should address: could FBI secretly obtain names and addresses of participants by issuing to Drexel U an NSL? Could the researchers be subpoenaed by the Grand Jury impaneled in Eastern District of Virginia which is rumored to be searching for the "second leaker"? How does present (rapidly expanding) or possible future "information sharing" among US agencies affect the privacy of the raw data for your survey? If the raw data is stored long term (perhaps at a journal's website, in order to enable other researchers to verify your statistical analysis), could it not become subject to future mandatory sharing requirements which we cannot presently anticipate?
Bearing in mind
* recent comments from FBI Director Comey about Tor and encrypted communications,
* multiple attacks on Tor users (especially, users of at least some Tor hidden services) from FBI and the Dutch National Police, which have been extensively discussed in this blog,
* multiple "academic research" projects which apparently passed identifying data of real Tor users suspected of something or other to FBI,
I believe that a certain level of paranoia about "academic research" on Tor-- even when conducted by well disposed researchers-- is amply justified.
Please recall that well intentioned NIST employees trusted NSA employees whom they thought they knew well, which turned out to be a terrible mistake which potentially endangered all users of citizen crypto. I don't want the same thing to happen with Tor.
Further, as some have pointed out on tor-talk, the aforementioned academic research which aimed to "out" real Tor users featured a notable absence of any known institutional review board (IRB) proceedings, as would otherwise be customary for studies on human subjects. Has your survey been approved by Drexel's IRB?
To repeat: I don't question your intentions, for which Roger has vouched. (I concede that if Tor users can't trust Roger, they can't trust anyone-- see above for some hints about why some of us feel that some degree of paranoia is plainly appropriate for Tor users.) But I am worried that you might not appreciate how you research might be abused by certain parts of the USG whose intentions are not so nice.
The USIC has an intense and growing interest in identifying Tor users and understanding how we might use Tor to threaten "US national interests", or to put it more plainly, the self-interest of the US political/financial elite. This interest is plain to see in a vast research program, employing among other means seemingly innocuous "surveys" such as your proposed Tor survey.
I would be much happier if I knew that you are both well aware of the scope of a massive USG effort to identity and tag alleged potential future "Enemies of the State", focusing on (predictably)
* Somali immigrants,
* returning and possibly embittered US military veterans,
* members of SPLC enumerated "hate groups",
* suspected anarchists,
* Tea party members,
* persons with extraordinary software skills,
* suspected Snowden sympathizers,
* suspected "radical environmentalists" (PETA, etc),
* Occupy organizers,
and (here's the shocker)
* American children as young as 3-7.
I echo recent urgent appeal from The Intercept asking for leaks of more documents related to the vast CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) effort from NCTC; see
Is Your Child a Terrorist? U.S. Government Questionnaire Rates Families at Risk for Extremism
Murtaza Hussain, Cora Currier, and Jana Winter
9 Feb 2015
Possible leakers include social workers, ER doctors, school principals, kindergarten and primary school teachers. (I wish I were joking, but sadly, I am not.) People in these fields who work in Boston, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and some other areas have already received NCTC sponsored questionnaires similar to the one published by The Intercept, and the public needs to know about these horrifying documents. Some of the surveys or questionnaires may carry the emblem of NIH or CDC (Centers for Disease Control) but don't be fooled: the agency which is behind this effort is NCTC.
The fact is that NCTC/USIC has become convinced that "terrorism" defined broadly can be understood in epidemiological terms, as an infectious disease.
Talk to a PETA "tabler" on your campus? Then you've been "exposed" to animal rights activism, and must be monitored, or even quarantined, lest you in turn infect others.
Some of the groups targeted by NCTC are predictable from past episodes of government hysteria: Somali refugees are the explicit focus of the research of people like John Horgan
and also appear to be targeted by the NCTC CVE document cited above.
But the biggest and must vulnerable group has never before been regarded by the USG as "potential Enemies of the State" [sic]: American children, all of them, of ages ranging from 3 to 7.
The NCTC's rationale for identifying and monitoring (over an almost always peaceful and uneventful lifetime) of "potential future problem persons" is this: NCTC and other parts of USG are convinced that ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) are a reliable predictor of who will become:
* a terrorist, "school shooter", or garden variety criminal,
* a blogger expressing views which challenge the political elite,
* a participant in hypothetical future mass street protests,
* a future financial burden on the state,
Such surveys have been conducted in the recent past by companies such as ICF International. The Wikipedia article
has been bowdlerized, but until recently ICF's home page boasted of their lucrative USIC contracts. Less well known is their contract with the UN, which allows them to conduct "health research" in countries including Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea. No kidding. Their Pakistan subsidiary is named in the official report as being implicated in the fake vaccine campaign run by Dr. Afridi in Abbottabad for the CIA, whose sole purpose was to obtain blood samples from children living in the household of a mystery man who turned out to be Bin Laden. This episode was an particularly pointed example of how "medical research" can be perverted to harm people.
If you are unconcerned by state-sponsored extra-judicial assassination of bad people such as Bin Laden, please consult the ACLU for the ultimate danger to good people which seems to invariably result when good people allow governments to act unjustly toward bad people. Also please note that we should resist easy acceptance of the premise that his young children whom the US Special Forces assault exposed to mortal danger are themselves doomed to become terrorists if not thwarted. And I should stress the fact that, simply because they were directly exposed to gun violence in the Abbottabad raid, they would be tagged by NCTC's dragnet even without their genealogy, just like innocent youngsters in cities like Damascus (or Baltimore).
(As you know, Seymour Hersh just published an article claiming that top Pakistani intelligence officials had been keeping Bin Laden out of view. The version I heard at the time differs slightly: the Pakistani political leadership was kept in the dark, and Bin Laden himself was not aware that at least one high ranking Pakistani intelligence official knew exactly where he was living.)
The War on US has become a war on our *children*. Is this, at long last, the point where the People will finally cry, "Enough!?"
I'd like to end by asking you to ask yourselves how your research might fit into the ever growing surveillance-industrial complex; please see
for a recent passionate critique by a former US military officer who is apparently just as horrified as I am by the rampant militarization of American society, to the extent that pacifists are being progressively dehumanized by state-sponsored propaganda organs.
This post is another attempt by myself to open a dialog with Roger, Rachel, Nick and others closely associated with Tor about the persistent and ever more troubling issues raised by accepting USG funding, certainly from DARPA but also even from allegedly "innocuous" sources such as NSF, NIH, CDC, which may simply cover for NCTC or USIC. I hope the moderator will accept in the spirit of dialog. IMO, in the discussion of complex and politically charged topics, Tor Project should always prefer argument to censorship.