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New project wants to install Tor exit relays in Libraries across US

Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

August 3, 2015

Tor is a network that provides anonymity for Internet users via a piece of software that can be downloaded from its website. When someone connects to the Internet with the Tor software, their IP address remains hidden, appearing instead as the address of one of the Tor exit relays – which could be anywhere in the world.

Tor software is able to do this thanks to a network of volunteer computers (called relays) that serve to keep Tor hidden services up and running. The more relays there are, ‘the faster, more robust, and more secure the Tor network will be’. Now, crypto enthusiasts in the US have started a campaign that they hope will help to expand Tor Project’s scope by installing exit relays in Libraries across the US.

Currently, there are about 1000 exit relays worldwide, and Tor Project developers believe that putting exit relays in libraries could be the best way to help drive the anonymizing network forward.  If the plan is successful, the security, speed, and scope of the Tor network will be vastly improved, leading to better security for everyone that uses it.

Library Freedom Project for Tor library exit points

The project itself is being carried out by the Library Freedom Project (LFP),  a relatively new ‘partnership among librarians, technologists, attorneys, and privacy advocates which aims to make real the promise of intellectual freedom in libraries.’ LFP, which announced the project last week, enthusiastically believes that installing exit relays in libraries will vastly help to increase privacy for its patrons by protecting them from snooping eyes. Commenting on LFP’s new endeavor, Kate Krauss from Tor project had the following to say,

‘We love this—we hope that more libraries and news outlets will start hosting Tor exit nodes.  It’s a bold statement for free speech.’

In the US, librarians have traditionally been strong advocates of privacy, freedom of speech and access to information. This tradition is exemplified in the existence of the American Library Association – the oldest and largest library association in the world – originally founded in 1879.

‘Librarians see the value as soon as you say ‘privacy protecting technology,’  said Alison Macrina from LFP “When we get into the basics of free software and cryptography, they are hooked.”

So far, LFP has only managed to set up a middle relay in one library in New Hampshire. A middle relay is one of three relay types that makes the Tor network function and does the job of passing traffic along to other relays (or nodes) in the system.  Although, as yet, a full-fledged exit relay has not been set up in a library, LFP hopes to finalize testing and upgrade the relay within a month.

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) explains the role of Tor relays on its website,

‘Because Tor traffic exits through these relays, the IP address of the exit relay is interpreted as the source of the traffic,” the group notes. “If a malicious user employs the Tor network to do something that might be objectionable or illegal, the exit relay may take the blame. People who run exit relays should be prepared to deal with complaints, copyright takedown notices, and the possibility that their servers may attract the attention of law enforcement agencies. If you aren’t prepared to deal with potential issues like this, you might want to run a middle relay instead.’

Anyone interested in running a Tor relay is advised that it is not just organisations (like Libraries) that can set one up. Individuals are also encouraged to help increase the efficacy of the network for everyone involved.  If this sounds like something that might interest you, it is worth heading over to Tor project’s blog where you will find some excellent tips on setting one up.

Any Library interested in becoming part of the project is asked to contemplate carefully this questionnaire, after which they can contact Alison Macrina directly at alison@libraryfreedomproject.org

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