back to article Child abuse, drug sales, terrorism fears: Why cops halted a library's Tor relay ... for a month

Librarians in New Hampshire, America, were warned that running a Tor exit relay on their network would assist child abusers, drug dealers, and terrorists. Those are the remarkable facts that have emerged from a freedom-of-information request filed over the decision by Kilton Library in Lebanon, NH, to host, then take down, and …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    impressed

    With locals supporting it on free speech angle. Usually get impression that small towns even in more liberal East would be sceptical of use of taxes* for service most would not use.

    *though I'm sure actual costs would be minimal against library's IT budget.

    1. RNixon

      Re: impressed

      There might not be much in the way of taxes involved. I have no idea how it's structured there, of course, but a lot of small town libraries in the US are largely self-financing through donations, fees for services (copy machines, movie rental charges, renting out meeting rooms to clubs, etc), bake sales, and the like.

      I worked in a library for several years and while we did get some tax funds - they were part of the school budget vote - we could've survived without them. We had a mostly volunteer staff and a local lawn care place cut the grass free, and so on.

      Although probably without quite so many copies of new bestsellers.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    child abusers, drug dealers, and terrorists...

    This is why we need government oversight in everything you do, wake up and smell the coffee people.

    None of these people existed before the internet.

    1. PeterGriffin

      Anything that exists can be used by those who have different motivation to the intention. TOR may be used by government avoiding paranoids. But equally it may be used by the Silk Road, Terrorists or Child Pornography viewers. It's just a fact and you and each individual should make their own judgement. I have never used and never intend to use TOR as I judge it's existence as an excuse to mask illegal activities.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Meh. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. It's handy for a lot of things...seeing differences displayed in websites to visitors from other countries; jumping over ISP barriers; stopping your ISP tracking everything you do; looking up symptoms with no fear that your insurance premiums are suddenly going to go up; not getting stitched up for the euro or pound price for a digital product just because of where you're from; buying plane tickets if you're from an 'affluent' postcode etc. etc.

        If you're a car owner you *can* drive it into a bus queue; but how often do you do that? Just because something can be misused (ie, every single bit of technology that I can think of, from the lever on up) doesn't mean to say that you have to -or even will- misuse it.

      2. Schultz

        Your own opinion...

        I agree with your comment that everybody should make up his own mind. But I made up my mind and use TOR regularly, for perfectly legal Web surfing. I hope my use will help support a system that facilitates free speech in oppressive parts of the world. All forms of free speech (and other personal freedoms) can be used for nefarious purposes, but I hope most would agree that free speech is a net force for good.

      3. Wzrd1

        @PeterGriffin, I work for a Fortune 200 company, in an office equidistant between the Friendship Annex of the NSA and the NSA headquarters. While that location may sound precise, it's not really.

        We use TOR at work to research suspicious traffic and websites, I personally have my own node on a virtual machine to research such on a regular basis. We use TOR for non-attribution work.

        Your 'criminals use it, so I won't' principle is equal to wanting to tear up the highway system because criminals use them.

        Do you use knives to cut your food, prepare your food, etc? Criminals use them as weapons, will you now discard your kitchen knives because a very few criminals also use them as weapons?

        When the valid, lawful uses of a technology greatly outnumber the illicit usages, one retains that technology.

        I do believe that the ancient Athenians had the right of it to prohibit the idios from voting.

        1. Craig 2

          I'm in favour of TOR and think law enforcement agencies should concentrate on just that: enforcing the law as it stands.

          BUT...

          I'm sick of all the parallels people try and use to compare TOR with other so-called dangerous activities. Your knives example for instance - it's false logic. Running a TOR exit is not the same as using a knife. It's the same as giving free knives to anyone who wants them. Put a table full of various knives outside your house with a sign saying "free knives" and see how long that lasts...

          1. Raumkraut

            Running a TOR exit is not the same as using a knife. It's the same as giving free knives to anyone who wants them.

            An even more apt analogy might be that of Libraries themselves; lending books to anyone, without logging who reads what.

            Do libraries stock the classic novel "Lolita", despite it possibly attracting paedophiles?

            Do libraries stock books on the history of the middle-east, despite them possibly encouraging religious extremism?

            Do libraries stock chemistry textbooks, despite them possibly being useful to manufacture illegal drugs and explosives?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Do libraries stock chemistry textbooks

              careful there! ;)

            2. Craig 2

              Much better anaolgy... As I said in the first sentence, I'm all for TOR. Just not the dumb comparisons people make with driving, using knives etc. If you want to compare something make it comparable on the same terms. Otherwise it could be interpreted as: "well, that's not really a fair comparison so the author is probably biased."

          2. User McUser

            It's the same as giving free knives to anyone who wants them.

            What's your point? They want the knives, so they get them, and then what?

            Put a table full of various knives outside your house with a sign saying "free knives" and see how long that lasts

            I'm willing to bet that it will last until all the knives are gone. What's the scenario you envision that specifically makes this table of free knives in front of my house a bad thing? I am keen to understand your position here because from my point of view that's called a "yard sale."

      4. Captain Hogwash

        @PeterGriffin. Is that your real name or did you make a conscious choice to use the name of the primary buffoon in an animated sitcom? Just asking.

        1. patrickstar

          At least his name comes from a cartoon for adults...

      5. Redback813

        For somebody who has no idea or even used said app has no opinion on the tor , but those who do and use said app them selves , personal I use the torbundle for two reason . One been privacy, and secondly, for data retentions laws within my country.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "None of these people existed before the internet."

      You can find examples of all of them in your local friendly Government Administration.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      >child abusers, drug dealers, and terrorists...

      If that was all the government were interested in I guess few people would be alarmed. But they have been shown to be lying so often that it just sounds like a knee-jerk excuse. Child abusers, drug dealers and terrorists are not an existential threat to democracy, but uncontrolled government snooping is.

  3. goldcd

    It's a choice.

    Yes, this exit node could be used by terrorists, child pornographers - well basically anybody.

    You host an exit node and you could be helping these people.

    But then you could be helping people who legitimately don't want to be identified for something as innocent as they simply just don't want to be identified.

    I've no idea if I've got a coherent viewpoint on this, but just have that nagging feeling that it's simply an effect of reaping what was sowed. Governments overstep what they should be doing to simply server their citizens, and citizens respond by firstly complaining to deaf ears and then naturally escalate by opting out of the system of surveillance.

    Complex, and I've no idea as to what's "right", but maybe we're being confused by this being 'the internet'. Applying internet logic to things we feel more comfortable with, would we accept the monitoring of anything sent through the postal system? Copy of anything we printed out being uploaded to verify that there was no nefarious content? Cash transactions being only permitted if recorded?

    All of the above would help prevent crimes, but are not a price most of us are willing to pay to sacrifice our liberty. We just need to bring this language and the associated sentiments onto the internet.

  4. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Small Town America

    My observation from living them for much of adult life is that they're more conservative fiscally, yet liberal in many areas. They can be very judgemental and harsh. But they do hold certain things sacred such as "free speech" and a dislike of Big Government (and even Big Business) and orders from said government regarding what they see as "their business".

    Yes, there's a price to pay for security... if government can actually provide that. There's a price for privacy which seemingly all governments try to take away for "security".

    Edit While the US Government has assisted in TOR, there's a reason but I'm not sure any of us will ever know the reality of that reason. They're very secretive and suspicious of anyone else being secretive.

  5. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Seedy

    "Yes, this exit node could be used by terrorists, child pornographers - well basically anybody."

    So can a computer lab, a (non-TOR) internet connection, a telephone, hell, "they" might even just plain check out books from the library itself.

    That said, when I checked out TOR like 10 years ago, the .onion sites available were mostly seedy. Real seedy.

    1. Old Handle

      Re: Seedy

      It's worth noting though, that exit nodes are specifically intended for anonymously visiting normal websites rather than hidden services.

    2. Wzrd1

      Re: Seedy

      About the only TOR based website I visited was the original Silk Road. I nearly crapped myself when I saw handguns for sale, to be posted anywhere in the world.

      Don't mistake my surprise, I'm a US citizen and own a number of firearms, for both hunting and competition shooting, but the damned things should only be sold with a background check, in a nation that permits such weapons to be sold.

  6. Ole Juul

    Over the line

    The police are hired to uphold the law, not make it. When they step over that line and try to influence what is currently legal, then we have a serious problem. I bet they'd like to see a curfew so it will be easier to monitor who's prowling about at night. How close are we to that being a reality? This affair shows that we are probably closer than most people think.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Over the line

      The police are, indeed, charged with upholding the law and not with influencing it (beyond the right they have as citizens). Nothing in the article suggests they tried to do anything to effect a change in the laws or their administration, or, in fact, anything other than present an argument that TOR will facilitate some fairly nasty criminal activity. It very likely will do that, and police officers are well within their mission to point it out.

      The library board appears to have been free to ignore the police in the matter, as nothing about operating a TOR exit node appears to be illegal and there are benefits as well as costs associated with it. The episode is best understood as a decision having been reached by democratic procedures that everyone involved accepted as legitimate. To suggest that this is a minor battle between "good" supporters of First Amendment principles and "bad" law enforcement agencies is simply incorrect.

      TOR was developed and is supported by the US government as a tool, and like many tools can be used for various purposes, not all of them beneficial and some of them quite illegal depending on the country of use. TOR users in the US, of which I occasionally have been one, have little or nothing to fear because of that, and far less reason than residents of some other countries that most of us could name easily. Their activity may well be noticed by the NSA, but in nearly all cases without consequence to them. Widespread public knowledge of TOR makes it all but certain that many SigInt agencies other than the NSA, other Five Eyes coutries, or those of other democratic regimes, attempt to either monitor or prevent its use for purposes their governments know best.

    2. Wzrd1

      Re: Over the line

      You made the mistake of not noticing who carped about the TOR exit node, the DHS, who don't *yet* care about who is wandering about at night in any locality.

      Give 'em a few more years.

  7. Crazy Operations Guy

    Why shut down the exit node?

    All the child pornography, terrorism, and drug dealing websites are inside of TOR, so no exit node is needed... So really, the only thing coming out of the exit node is going to be the nice clean, harmless traffic from people accessing legal websites but don't want to be spied upon while doing so.

    1. Ole Juul

      Re: Why shut down the exit node?

      . . . the only thing coming out of the exit node is going to be the nice clean, harmless traffic from people accessing legal websites but don't want to be spied upon while doing so.

      Indeed, one of the popular sites on the dark web is now Facebook which is accessible at https://facebookcorewwwi.onion/

  8. Wade Burchette
    Childcatcher

    child pornography, terrorism, and drug dealing

    Such ne'er-do-wells can also use a car to transport child porn, deal drugs, and transport terrorists. Therefore, I suggest we ban automobiles, horses, trains, or any other means to travel just to be safe.

    And people can also use mobile phones to do those things. Therefore, I suggest we ban all telephones just to be safe.

    And people can also deliver child porn, drugs, or send terrorist messages through the postal service. Therefore, I suggest we ban mailboxes, UPS, FedEx, and any other delivery service just to be safe.

    You cannot have child porn without a camera. Therefore, we should ban all cameras and camcorders except those approved for use by select pre-screened media individuals. Just to be safe.

    This is logical. Just because someone can do something bad with technology that automatically means they will. Therefore, I propose we make a law whereby if anything can be used to advance child pornography, terrorism, or drug dealing then it should automatically be banned.

    [end sarcasm]

    1. Sureo

      Re: child pornography, terrorism, and drug dealing

      No need to ban those things, just put surveillance on them.....oh wait....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: child pornography, terrorism, and drug dealing

        "No need to ban those things, just put surveillance on them.....oh wait...."

        Heh, the NSA broke TOR open a decade and change ago. I quite literally read the official, classified bulletin.

        1. Cynic_999

          Re: child pornography, terrorism, and drug dealing

          "

          Heh, the NSA broke TOR open a decade and change ago. I quite literally read the official, classified bulletin.

          "

          Complete rubbish.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Double-edged

    It is, of course, a supreme irony that the Tor project is partly funded by the US government. Meanwhile, the NSA labels anyone who uses the network, or even searches for information on the network or similar online privacy tools, as a potential "extremist."

    All quite logical and not surprising.

    Our western governments encourage and support oppressed peoples elsewhere in the world by providing tools to weaken their governments' holds on them, but those tools can also be used to weaken our governments' holds.

    Inevitable really, and our governments shouldn't be overly concerned about it: surely our democracies are strong enough to cope with the apparent negative consequences?

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Democracy, yes, undoubtedly.

      Politicians ? Less so. Much less.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Ah yes, Politicians: the unfortunate weakness at the heart of most Democracies.

        1. jamesb2147

          I fear this has gotten out of hand

          You don't live in a democracy, friends.

          You live in a republic. A democratic republic, to be sure, but a republic none the less.

          1. Loyal Commenter

            Re: I fear this has gotten out of hand

            You live in a republic. A democratic republic, to be sure, but a republic none the less.

            Actually I (and I suspect most people here since this is a .co.uk website) live in a constitutional monarchy.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    child pornography, drug transactions, and terrorism.

    Proven beyond reasonable doubt, those onions ARE nothing but the worst evil, RIGHT ON OUR DOORSTEP! Do you NOT want to stop child pornography, drug transactions and terrorism?! Well, dontcha?! What evil person you must be! And that beard! There's no smoke without fire, you know.

  11. Cynic_999

    Goverments are driving people toward TOR

    I've read a number of news stories about people getting arrested or otherwise investigated because an innocent activity they were engaged in was seen as suspicious. Heck, there have been two school children (one in U.S. and one in U.K.) grabbed from the classroom and interrogated recently - one for making a digital clock and the other for using the term "eco-terrorist" during a lesson about ecological issues.

    So ISTM that anything you decide to look up on the net that some warped official with an overactive imagination might decide is suspicious (which includes just about anything) is best done via TOR or you may find you are flagged as being a "person of interest."

    Just imagine that for whatever reason you decided to look up the floor plan of a famous building, and a few days later it was the target of a terrorist attack.

  12. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    A fine example of a DHS "expert"

    Gregory Squire ... emailed a colleague nearby in Portsmouth complaining: "Just terrific ... that kid seems to be thinking just an inch past the end of her nose."

    Pot, kettle, low albedo, eh?

    But then this seems to be typical of the thinking of this sort of DHS analyst. Protecting liberties by stamping them out wherever they appear.

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