Anonymity network Tor has become a safe-space for white supremacists and paedophiles. Yet in nations where access to the net is curtailed, its a lifeline
The neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer ultimately intersected a line following the killing of a civil rights activist at a white supremacist rally it helped organise in Charlottesville, Virginia: a blogpost attacking victim Heather Heyer lead to it being chased from the web, first by technology companies who steadily refused to provide service, then by hackers who tried to crash the site.
Eventually, it sought refuge in the so-called dark web, launching a special type of site called a Tor hidden service, impervious to conventional internet censorship. In doing so it glisten a spotlight, yet again, on a controversial technology that provides protection for dissenters in oppressive regimes at the same time as harbouring Nazis, illicit marketplaces and child abuse rings.
The developer of the protocol that allows sites to exist concealed within the dark web and the encrypted browser used to connect to them and normal websites in a protected style, the Tor Project, spoke out shortly after the Daily Stormer made its concealed service 😛 TAGEND
” We are disgusted, angered, and appalled by everything these racists stand for and do. We feel this way any time the Tor network and software are used for vile purposes .”
But, unlike previous groups the site had turned to for protection, Tor argued the same rights that protect the good protect the Daily Stormer too.” 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 use those tools ,” it said.
” Tor is designed to defend human rights and privacy by avoiding anyone from censoring things, even us .” The project is unable to deny service to the Daily Stormer even if it wanted to.
It isn’t the first time Tor has seen itself facing disagreement. The software was initially developed with the help of US government funding to provide access to the open web to users from repressive nations, but has become better known in the west for its utilize by those who wish to escape law enforcement.
Perhaps the most notable instances are dark markets, such as the Silk Road, Alphabay or Hansa– all now closed down by authorities. These used Tor hidden services to connect customers with merchants, overwhelmingly for illegal goods such as narcotics, fake IDs and similar, and cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin to facilitate payments.
But Tor has been used for other malicious aims as well. Over the years, enforcement agencies have discovered and taken down sites that trade in child abuse imagery and others that offer illegal hacking services on the dark web. Terrorists have also been experimenting with the service, although the surprisingly low-tech approach of many would-be assassins reportedly sets them off such secure answers.
One 2015 survey of the dark web put the proportion of illicit content at around 40%.
Such figures have led nations such as France to wonder if banning the service might be a possibility, but proponents say the 60% of sites that are perfectly legitimate are important to defend.
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