Recently, an official of the Department of Justice, Ovie Carroll, director of the Cybercrime Lab, urged a roomful of federal judges, numbering about a hundred, to use Tor to protect their personal information on their computers against data breaches.
This was in total contrast to the fact that the US government has always appeared to oppose Tor for the many illegal activities that the software enables, despite being the software’s largest funder.
The FBI uses Tor’s vulnerabilities to identify criminals. Judge Robert J. Bryan said in July that Ovie Carroll personally recommended Tor to about a hundred federal judges, according to a hearing transcript released recently.
Bryan expressed surprise on the attitude of Ovie during the hearing on two motions concerning FBI’s mass hacking campaigns.
FBI was successful in bringing down PlayPen, a child exploitaion website, whose users favored Tor.
However, the federal judges would not be able to protect their personal details with FBI’s knowledge of Tor’s vulnerabilities.
Bryan himself had presided over a number of cases during the PlayPen investigation.
In this context, it is also interesting to note that it is not only Ovie Carroll who has expressed support for the use of Tor.
Earlier on, an FBI computer scientist based in Philadelphia also recommended the use of the Tor browser as well as its capabilities to officials in Lebanon.
In August last year, the Homeland Security Department pressured a public library in Lebanon, a city in Grafton County, New Hampshire, to shut down the exit node that it was hosting on Tor.
The town was able to reverse the decision because of the strong support provided by the people of both Lebanon and the whole country, including that of the FBI computer scientist.
Kilton Public Library was the first library in the US to agree to host an exit node in the Tor network, contributing bandwidth to the anonymity web protocol.
The contention of the Homeland Security Department was that the Tor exit node would enable criminals and terrorists to evade and circumvent the law.
As such, it is extremely foolish to believe that all law enforcement and justice department officials oppose the use of the Tor network.
This is because the anonymity software is a dual-use technology by its very nature.
It can be made use of to circumvent censorship, protect individual privacy, and obfuscate metadata.
If the comments made by Judge Bryan are accurate, the advice given by Carroll might not have been this robust as Tor is not very useful when it comes to protecting an individual’s personal information on computers or mitigating damages caused by data breaches.
These are not the kind of things that can be protected using the Tor system.
Irrespective of its appearance, the U.S. government requires using Tor for the purposes it was designed.
The government cannot create and run an anonymity system for people and then say that it can only be used by them.
This is because people would say that another CIA agent has snooped on them whenever a connection is established using Tor.
All said and done; it is important to take note of the advice to use Tor as it is coming from an official belonging to the Department of Justice.
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