This is What a Tor Supporter Looks Like: Shari Steele
I first heard of what was to become the Tor Project around 2002. At that time, I don't think any of us realized how essential Tor was going to be to the Internet freedom movement.
Back in the 1990s, I had been a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and was part of the legal team that sued the government on behalf of mathematician Dan Bernstein to make the use of encryption legal for non-military purposes like privacy protection. At that time, releasing encryption on the Internet required a license to be an arms dealer. The government claimed that its classification of encryption as a munition--right alongside B-1 bombers and flamethrowers--was a national security decision, making it difficult to challenge in court. EFF challenged the classification on First Amendment grounds, resulting in a court ultimately ruling that cryptographic source code was protected speech and making the use of encryption legal. This paved the way for electronic commerce, because now credit cards could be used on the Internet, with credit card numbers encrypted as part of the transactions. It also paved the way for individuals to use encryption to protect their private communications.
However, in reality, early attempts at widespread encryption were clunky and hard to use, and very few individuals were actually using encryption to protect their own privacy. Roger Dingledine began work on The Onion Router, or Tor, in 2002. Nick Mathewson was soon to follow (since he wanted it to work on his laptop). Many EFF staffers were familiar with Tor from the outset, and they believed it was one of the most promising tools being developed with the potential for widespread deployment of encryption for individual privacy protection.
In 2004, Nick and Roger approached EFF to see if we could help them find funding. EFF staffers were concerned that the Tor Project would fail if we didn't help. By this time I was EFF's executive director, and in October I asked the EFF board to amend our budget to allow for EFF to fund Tor ourselves. The board voted unanimously on the budget change, and tor.eff.org was born. EFF attorneys helped to write Tor's original FAQ; one of EFF's technologists helped to design the original Tor onion logo; and Tor was generally considered an EFF project at that time. When Nick and Roger were ready to go out on their own, I continued to help as best as I could, having EFF serve as Tor's fiscal sponsor, which enabled them to receive funding with nonprofit status until their own 501(c)(3) determination came through.
I've always been immensely proud of the Tor Project. What started as a proof of concept became what is today the strongest, most censorship-resistant privacy network in the world. Tor is an essential part of the Internet freedom infrastructure. And now I'm back working with Nick and Roger, this time building out Tor's operational side to complement its amazing technology. But building out the organization requires funding that is not restricted. That's why this end-of-year crowdfunding campaign is so important. We need your support to help Tor become sustainable over the long term. We have raised $75,000 since kicking it off, and need your help to break the $100K mark! Please give what you can to The Tor Project today. Don't forget: for a limited time, donations will be matched thanks to the generous contributions of Rabbi Rob and Lauren Thomas!