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Friday, 02 March 2018 06:56

Privacy project Tor claimed to be in US Government's pocket Featured

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In an explosive revelation, the Tor Project, which produces a browser said to be the gold standard for privacy, is being funded by the US Government agency BBG and co-operates with American intelligence agencies, a report claims.

Citing new documents released to journalist Yasha Levine under Freedom of Information Act requests, the website RT said Tor was a "privatised extension of the very same government that it claimed to be fighting".

Levine obtained 2500 pages of correspondence about the Tor Project which showed that it received funds from the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which supervises Washington-funded media, including the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The documents also showed that Tor representatives met officials of the US Department of Justice, the FBI and other spy agencies for training sessions and conferences, where the agencies highlighted their needs as far as software was concerned.

Levine said in a blog post that he had obtained the documents for writing a book, Surveillance Valley.

He said he had found that following the money showed that Tor was not a grassroots organisation, "but a military contractor with its own government contractor number. In other words: it was a privatised extension of the very same government that it claimed to be fighting".

Initial evidence about Tor that he gathered while collecting material for his book did not leave much doubt that Tor was a foreign policy weapon for the US Government.

"But the box of FOIA documents I received from the BBG took that evidence to a whole new level," he said.

"Why would the US Government fund a tool that limited its own power? The answer, as I discovered, was that Tor didn't threaten American power. It enhanced it."

Levine said the documents showed "Tor employees taking orders from their handlers in the federal government, including plans to deploy their anonymity tool in countries that the US was working to destabilise: China, Iran, Vietnam, Russia".

"They showed strategy sessions, discussions about the need to influence news coverage, and control bad press. They featured monthly updates that described meetings and training with the CIA, NSA, FBI, DoJ and State Department.

"They revealed plans to funnel government funding to run Tor 'independent' nodes. Most shockingly, the FOIA documents put under question Tor's pledge that it would never put in any backdoors that gave the government secret privileged access to Tor's network under question."

The material that Levine obtained is available in full here.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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