A New England library is calling off its plan to host a Tor exit node after cops, tipped off by the US Department of Homeland Security, paid a visit.
The Kilton Library in Lebanon, New Hampshire, had been hosting an exit relay on the Tor network since July as part of a pilot program to safeguard citizens' privacy online.
After meeting with the plod, however, the librarians have taken the box offline over fears it was being used for criminal activity.
Tor – aka The Onion Router – helps cloak people's identities online by routing their connections through multiple nodes and out to the wider internet via exit relays. It is used by whistleblowers, journalists, activists, crooks and lowlifes. All connections leaving the Tor network go through these exit points, which will inevitably carry a lot of traffic that the Feds will be interested in.
Kilton's exit node was the pilot for an effort by the Library Freedom Project to equip local libraries in the US with Tor nodes that could be accessed by users in areas where internet traffic is censored and closely monitored.
"This is an idea whose time has come; libraries are our most democratic public spaces, protecting our intellectual freedom, privacy, and unfettered access to information, and Tor Project creates software that allows all people to have these rights on the internet," the group said of the pilot program.
According to a report by ProPublica, the Department of Homeland Security gave word of the node to police, who then had a meeting with library and city officials. ProPublica claims that the police did not threaten any action against the library, but merely informed them of the possibility that their Tor node could be used for criminal activity.
The library's board of trustees will vote later this month on whether to bring the node back online.
Although Tor's beginnings lie within the US Naval Research Lab and Uncle Sam's DARPA, today's g-men aren't massive fans of Tor, pointing out that illegal sites such as the Silk Road drugs bazaar used the network to protect user anonymity. In 2014, London's police commissioner famously (and erroneously) claimed Tor traffic was 90 percent of the internet.
Privacy groups, meanwhile, argue that by and large Tor is not being used to mask illegal activity, and the network can be a valuable tool for those living under oppressive government regimes.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation said it was starting a campaign to flood library trustees with letters of support for the node in an effort to get the Tor box back up and running in the Kilton Library.
"Law enforcement fearmongering has given a New Hampshire library cold feet about running a Tor relay – even though the software helps support privacy and intellectual freedom," the EFF said.
"Let the library board know there's public support behind this important privacy-enhancing project." ®