First Library To Support Tor Anonymous Internet Browsing Effort Stops After DHS Email

from the can't-have-anonymity dept

Since Edward Snowden exposed the extent of online surveillance by the U.S. government, there has been a surge of initiatives to protect users' privacy.

But it hasn't taken long for one of these efforts — a project to equip local libraries with technology supporting anonymous Internet surfing — to run up against opposition from law enforcement.

In July, the Kilton Public Library in Lebanon, New Hampshire, was the first library in the country to become part of the anonymous Web surfing service Tor. The library allowed Tor users around the world to bounce their Internet traffic through the library, thus masking users' locations.

Soon after state authorities received an email about it from an agent at the Department of Homeland Security.

"The Department of Homeland Security got in touch with our police department," said Sean Fleming, the library director of the Lebanon Public Libraries.

After a meeting at which local police and city officials discussed how Tor could be exploited by criminals, the library pulled the plug on the project.

"Right now we're on pause," said Fleming. "We really weren't anticipating that there would be any controversy at all."

He said that the library board of trustees will vote on whether to turn the service back on at its meeting on Sept. 15.

Used in repressive regimes by dissidents and journalists, Tor is considered a crucial tool for freedom of expression and counts the State Department among its top donors. But Tor has been a thorn in the side of law enforcement; National Security Agency documents made public by Snowden have revealed the agency's frustration that it could only identify a "very small fraction" of Tor users.

The idea to install Tor services in libraries emerged from Boston librarian Alison Macrina's Library Freedom Project, which aims to teach libraries how to "protect patrons' rights to explore new ideas, no matter how controversial or subversive, unfettered by the pernicious effects of online surveillance." (The Library Freedom Project is funded by Knight Foundation, which also provides funding to ProPublica.)

After Macrina conducted a privacy training session at the Kilton library in May, she talked to the librarian about also setting up a Tor relay, the mechanism by which users across the Internet can hide their identity.

The library board of trustees unanimously approved the plan at its meeting in June, and the relay was set up in July. But after ArsTechnica wrote about the pilot project and Macrina's plan to install Tor relays in libraries across the nation, law enforcement got involved.

A special agent in a Boston DHS office forwarded the article to the New Hampshire police, who forwarded it to a sergeant at the Lebanon Police Department.

DHS spokesman Shawn Neudauer said the agent was simply providing "visibility/situational awareness," and did not have any direct contact with the Lebanon police or library. "The use of a Tor browser is not, in [or] of itself, illegal and there are legitimate purposes for its use," Neudauer said, "However, the protections that Tor offers can be attractive to criminal enterprises or actors and HSI [Homeland Security Investigations] will continue to pursue those individuals who seek to use the anonymizing technology to further their illicit activity."

When the DHS inquiry was brought to his attention, Lt. Matthew Isham of the Lebanon Police Department was concerned. "For all the good that a Tor may allow as far as speech, there is also the criminal side that would take advantage of that as well," Isham said. "We felt we needed to make the city aware of it."

Deputy City Manager Paula Maville said that when she learned about Tor at the meeting with the police and the librarians, she was concerned about the service's association with criminal activities such as pornography and drug trafficking. "That is a concern from a public relations perspective and we wanted to get those concerns on the table," she said.

Faced with police and city concerns, library director Fleming agreed to turn off the Tor relay temporarily until the board could reconsider. "We need to find out what the community thinks," he said. "The only groups that have been represented so far are the police department and city hall."

Fleming said that he is now realizing the downside of being the first test site for the Tor initiative.

"There are other libraries that I've heard that are interested in participating but nobody else wanted to be first," he said. "We're lonesome right now."

Republished from ProPublica

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Filed Under: dhs, law enforcement, library, privacy, tor, tor browser
Companies: kilton public library


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  • identicon
    Michael, 11 Sep 2015 @ 9:39am

    New Hampshire: Live Free to be under the constant surveillance of the Department of Homeland Security or Die

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Crowad, 11 Sep 2015 @ 9:48am

    "For all the good that a Tor may allow as far as speech, there is also the criminal side that would take advantage of that as well,"

    For all the good that a second amendment may allow as far as self defense, there is also the criminal side that would take advantage...

    His reasoning could be applied to just about anything.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 11 Sep 2015 @ 11:21am

      Re:

      When all you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Cops' focus is on criminality so anything that isn't criminality doesn't concern them, including free expression and association. Mentioning them merely confuses the issue for them.

      This is why concentrations of power must be watched carefully and constrained from overreach. That fireplace of yours could burn down the whole building if you let it get out of your control.

      I don't understand why we've allowed this lazy thinking to take control.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Chris-Mouse (profile), 11 Sep 2015 @ 12:33pm

        Re: Re:

        I don't understand why we've allowed this lazy thinking to take control.

        You said it right there. People are lazy, and fighting against the creeping authoritarianism is hard work.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jeremy Lyman (profile), 11 Sep 2015 @ 11:21am

      Re:

      Cars and shoes and bags and books. Shut it all down or you'll certainly die screaming one day.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 11 Sep 2015 @ 10:11am

    Immediately after...

    The police met again with the DHS, then blocked all roads into and out of town since those could also be used by criminals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2015 @ 10:15am

    Let see if I have the law enforcement attitude correct.
    Anything that prevent them from monitoring the citizens for illegal activity is to be prevented.
    Anything that allows the citizens to monitor that law officer are doing their job properly is to be prevented.
    Nice to see that they are consistent, try and prevent anything that they do not like.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2015 @ 10:19am

    any experienced FOIA-ers out there?

    I'd be curious to see that email the DHS agent sent to the state and see if he really was merely forwarding a news article.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Brig C. McCoy (profile), 11 Sep 2015 @ 10:22am

    What kind of TOR service was the library providing?

    I'm not overly familiar with TOR, were they providing an exit node, or something else?

    ...brig

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Not an exit node, 13 Sep 2015 @ 11:21am

      Re: What kind of TOR service was the library providing?

      The library was providing a Tor relay. Encrypted everything, both coming and going. The excellent DuckDuckGo privacy-respecting search engine also runs a Tor relay.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2015 @ 10:23am

    Random question:

    Do you have an expectation of privacy in a public library?

    If they were clever, which they're not, surely they could just install millions of surveillance cameras in the library and stalk people the good old fashioned way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      PRMan, 11 Sep 2015 @ 10:31am

      Re: Random question:

      That doesn't help with a TOR exit node. People would be connecting to it from a chain of dozens of other TOR servers. Nobody would physically be in the library to take a picture of.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2015 @ 2:36pm

      Re: Random question:

      The library will have surveillance cameras, and they'll be pointed at the computers. Without TOR those computers have a traceable ip address, that can be matched to security footage of a user should anything naughty happen. With TOR, if someone does something naughty at the library, it's no longer linked to the library - but more importantly, it's not linked to the security footage.

      Footnote, TOR or no TOR - only a goddamn fool goes to the library to do their naughty stuff.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2015 @ 3:46pm

        Re: Re: Random question:

        The library was providing a TOR exit node rather than a TOR connection for its users, and so library surveillance would be in the wrong place by up to half the circumference of the world.
        Using TOR in a library is a foolish idea, as someone can see who you are while monitoring you computer us. An exit node in the library on the other hand is no more risk to a TOT user than any other exit node.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tqk (profile), 11 Sep 2015 @ 6:55pm

        Re: Re: Random question:

        Footnote, TOR or no TOR - only a goddamn fool goes to the library to do their naughty stuff.

        Think harder. You're overly (and unnecessarily) paranoid. Carry your laptop in and boot Tails Linux from USB key. Tor's enabled (and even i2p if you prefer), and you sitting in a cubicle using a laptop isn't going to be visible with the CCTV cameras libraries use.

        Add to this librarians are well known for being some of the best defenders of free expression and communication out there. They generally get this stuff (though their masters/managers may not).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2015 @ 1:28pm

        Re: Re: Random question:

        ...only a goddamn fool goes to the library to do their naughty stuff.
        Or teenage Jehova's Witnesses. My ex is a librarian, and swears that you have to shoo them away from the Interporn with a broom.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          tqk (profile), 12 Sep 2015 @ 2:01pm

          Re: Re: Re: Random question:

          I suspect porn is not what OP AC meant by "naughty stuff", and I doubt JWs are any worse wrt porn than anyone else. In the last city I lived in, the straights were complaining about homeless rummies surfing porn from library computers. The librarians were telling the straights to shut up, while telling the homeless to be sensible and keep it reasonable.

          I've never understood the attraction to surf porn in public places, such as even while at work. It seems like taunting yourself with forbidden fruit on purpose. Masochism perhaps? Buy a cheap laptop and use Starbucks' wifi, ffs.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nastybutler77 (profile), 11 Sep 2015 @ 10:48am

    What's the difference?

    "However, the protections that [a ski mask] offers can be attractive to criminal enterprises or actors and HSI [Homeland Security Investigations] will continue to pursue those individuals who seek to use the anonymizing technology to further their illicit activity."
    When the DHS inquiry was brought to his attention, Lt. Matthew Isham of the Lebanon Police Department was concerned. "For all the good that a [ski mask] may allow as far as speech, there is also the criminal side that would take advantage of that as well," Isham said.


    That makes as much sense.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 11 Sep 2015 @ 11:00am

    When the DHS inquiry was brought to his attention, Lt. Matthew Isham of the Lebanon Police Department was concerned. "For all the good that a U.S. Post Office may allow as far as speech, there is also the criminal side that would take advantage of that as well," Isham said. "We felt we needed to make the city aware of it."

    Deputy City Manager Paula Maville said that when she learned about the USPS at the meeting with the police and the librarians, she was concerned about the service's association with criminal activities such as pornography and drug trafficking. "That is a concern from a public relations perspective and we wanted to get those concerns on the table," she said.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 11 Sep 2015 @ 11:25am

    Fixed it for you

    "Used in repressive regimes by dissidents and journalists, Tor is considered a crucial tool for freedom of expression and counts the State Department among its top donors because Tor has been a thorn in the side of law enforcement."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 11 Sep 2015 @ 1:37pm

      Re: Fixed it for you

      But repressive regimes do not want TOR to be in use. That is why DHS is trying to put an end to the use of TOR.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tqk (profile), 11 Sep 2015 @ 6:12pm

        Re: Re: Fixed it for you

        But repressive regimes do not want TOR to be in use. That is why DHS is trying to put an end to the use of TOR.

        We have so many things to thank the Soviets for. Were it not for them freaking out the CIA and US' military, we wouldn't have tor (developed by the US Navy), or the Internet (created by DARPA), nor many crypto techs (ie. PGP). Nor would we have created NASA to put men on the moon. Of course, we need to thank the Nazis for that too (von Braun, et al). What a tangled web.

        I often wonder if we were rooting for the wrong side all along. Perhaps Fidel and Che were right all along, and they were actually freedom fighters trying to free "We The People" from the fascists imposing tyranny to supplant democracy. What we see today from the overlords certainly suggests it.

        I wish I could live long enough to see the real story when it's finally released. It'll be fascinating.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Klaus, 12 Sep 2015 @ 5:51am

          Re: Re: Re: Fixed it for you

          "...put men on the moon. Of course, we need to thank the Nazis..."

          Sorry, completely off-topic, but I read this and I immediately thought "Iron Sky"... Thanks for that, and nice post BTW. You're earlier point about the librarians being hard-core defenders of freedom is spot on.
          .

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            tqk (profile), 12 Sep 2015 @ 7:54am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Fixed it for you

            ... but I read this and I immediately thought "Iron Sky"

            Hah! I just watched that last night. What a hoot. :-) And I got it from the library.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Wendy Cockcroft, 15 Sep 2015 @ 3:20am

          Re: Re: Re: Fixed it for you

          Erm, it's more a case of which tyrant you prefer to be in charge: the one who favours the oligarchy or the one who favours party members in the name of the people.

          Communism is the mirror image of capitalism; people still get exploited either way.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2015 @ 11:42am

    One of the things that bothers me is the presumption that there are that many criminals within the general population.

    How many could there be with such a high percentage of the population already behind bars? Is the only evidence of illegal activity found online and that's why they need access?

    This perpetuates the myth of "us vs them" that exists within law enforcement as if they were at war. There is no active war zone inside the USA. The public is not their enemy.

    NSA, DHS, DOJ, FBI, CIA need to rein in their imaginations and stop playing games, refocus their efforts on real enemies or they might be creating their own self fullfilling prophecy..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2015 @ 2:48pm

      Re: (AC @1142)

      You're thinking of the US, and your points are valid.

      The internet, however, is global. Tor nodes no matter their position on the network can be accessed by anybody, even a prisoner with internet access. We've already seen court cases based only on an IP address. Notwithstanding DHS' response the library has a legitimate concern about being charged with any wrongdoing based on IP tracking to their location. The US does have "accessory after the fact" charges they can use; whether or not such charges are proper or even right is another story.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tqk (profile), 11 Sep 2015 @ 7:01pm

        Re: Re: (AC @1142)

        Notwithstanding DHS' response the library has a legitimate concern about being charged with any wrongdoing based on IP tracking to their location.

        That's a non-sequitor. Even the NSA complains that it's damned near impossible to track IPs in tor. Add a VPN connection on top, and it's ridiculous to even consider it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon, 11 Sep 2015 @ 12:31pm

    how about SWAT?

    Anything can be abused by criminals. The police can be abused by criminals via a process called "swatting". Maybe the police should shut down themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Darkhog, 11 Sep 2015 @ 1:55pm

    Headline

    "Lebanon terrorists want to use Tor in their endeavors."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 11 Sep 2015 @ 6:21pm

      Re: Headline

      "Lebanon terrorists want to use Tor in their endeavors."

      As do Iran (or North Korean, or Chinese, ...) based human rights activists. Don't blame the gun (or tool). Blame the user or shooter who mis-uses (or abuses) it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 11 Sep 2015 @ 7:28pm

        Re: Re: Headline

        I think you missed the joke - the library is in Lebanon, New Hampshire, but with as bad as the press is now, the headline will make it sound like the country Lebanon to sell more papers.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2015 @ 2:33pm

    In other news, the Lebanon NH Opera shut down Carmen,

    because it was celebrating the accomplishements of Tor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Groaker (profile), 11 Sep 2015 @ 3:20pm

    Then it is necessary to remove all books on mathematics from the library. The practice of math leads to cryptography.

    Many innocent bystanders are killed by police. Their batons and guns must be taken away.

    Many innocent people are improperly arrested and charged by the police. Their ability to arrest and charge must be reduced to finger wagging at possible criminals.

    Health and safety inspectors sometimes become corrupt. That entire set of occupations must be eliminated.

    There is an endless set of behaviors and actions that the authorities can declare as potentially dangerous.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2015 @ 6:23pm

      Re:

      unfortunately America has become a land of 1 set of laws and rules for the state and another for the average citizen

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2015 @ 9:09pm

    FBI Director James Comey said on Thursday that criminals who think they can evade law enforcement using the “dark web” and the Tor Network, which is designed to conceal the Internet addresses of the computers being used, are “kidding themselves.”

    https://theintercept.com/2015/09/10/comey-asserts-tors-dark-web-longer-dark-fbi/

    Law enforcement's glorious leader James Comey recently said Tor doesn't allow criminals to evade the long arm of the law. Why is law enforcement freaking out about public libraries using Tor?

    Is law enforcement stupid or is James Comey a liar? It has to be one or the other! Well, I guess it could be both. Which is it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2015 @ 5:49am

    All you need to know about TOR

    can be found on the TOR administrators mailing list. A public library using TOR is reckless. Don't get me wrong, I support anonymity on the Internet, but TOR has flaws that are insurmountable.

    There will be a proper replacement for TOR in the next few years, but TOR isn't what pop culture thinks it is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Rosco P Coltrane (profile), 12 Sep 2015 @ 8:47am

    They've got it backwards

    I fear that there are far more criminals using the DHS as cover for their crimes than TOR.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Josh, 14 Sep 2015 @ 2:56am

    Just another visit from our Stasi ......

    Of course the federals and local "law enforcement" don't like liberty-enhancing technology -- we've already passed the Soviet gulag system in sheer size. No matter what you do, you're doing something illegal. And no; I'm not joking.

    It's time for everyone to start using Tor. It's way past time to sweep this federal pestilence from our country.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    not good, 14 Sep 2015 @ 9:17am

    blame zionist israel on this, they control this DHS, run by the zionist jews.and it's only going to get worse, NAZI USA owed by the zionist jews.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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