Tor Project says it is against racism and hate in all its forms but censorship would undermine the anonymity needed for human rights activists
The violence in Charlottesville, Virginia last week and the far right organisations that instigated it has resulted in some soul searching within the technology industry.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has voiced his concern about Donald Trump’s response to violence in Charlottesville, while Intel CEO Brian Krzanich resigned from the US President’s manufacturing council – which was rapidly disbanded as executives from other firms also quit.
But arguably the most controversial episode has been the treatment of alt right publication The Daily Stormer. GoDaddy withdrew domain services to the site following a post that breached its terms of service, while Google refused to offer its services when the publication sought an alternative provider.
Tor Project response
Cloudflare also stopped protecting the site, admitting that it had been a difficult decision as the firm wrestled with the ethics of censorship. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has expressed its concern that a dangerous precedent has been set by the technology industry’s actions, which it perceives as censorship.
It later emerged the Stormer had retreated to the Dark Web, meaning it can only be accessed via the Tor browser. Tor is often viewed as a gateway to illegal activity, but the project has always said its anonymity and privacy technologies serve an important purpose for those with more innocent aims.
The projects’ founders have responded by admitting they are against the “hate spewing” Stormer but have said that if they started censoring what was on Tor, it would undermine the service as a whole.
“We are disgusted, angered, and appalled by everything these racists stand for and do,” they said in a blog post. “We feel this way any time the Tor network and software are used for vile purposes. But we can’t build free and open source tools that protect journalists, human rights activists, and ordinary people around the world if we also control who uses those tools. Tor is designed to defend human rights and privacy by preventing anyone from censoring things, even us.
“Ironically, the Tor software has been designed and written by a diverse team including people of many religions, races, gender identities, sexual orientations, and points on the (legitimate, non-Nazi) political spectrum. We are everything they claim to despise. And we work every day to defend the human rights they oppose.
“Tor stands against racism and bigotry wherever and whenever such hatred rears its ugly head. It is our work to provide everyone with the best possible security and privacy tools so human dignity and freedom can be promoted all over the world.”