Call to join Tor network to fight censorship
Karen Dearne
May 25, 2010

LOCAL internet users are being urged to embrace the online anonymity tool, Tor, to help build the network in defence of free speech and provide a "safety in the crowd" communications channel for people living under repressive regimes.

The Tor Project's founder, Roger Dingledine, says Australians are under-represented among the volunteers who provide the multiple relay hops that ensure privacy and security.

But with Australia among the nations trying to censor citizens, there was growing local interest in participation. "The Tor network is made up of volunteers, like you and me, who start out running Tor as a user, and then they say, 'I could be improving freedom of speech here and elsewhere by pressing this button that turns me into a relay'," Mr Dingledine told AusCERT 2010.

"That helps the relay traffic for other people around the world, and makes the Tor network bigger. And because there are more locations, a bunch of relays in many different places, it makes it safer also," he said.

A non-profit organisation credited with keeping internet communications open for users in China and Iran during recent crackdowns, the Tor Project started out as an R&D initiative for the US Navy in 2001.

Tor's free open-source software and open network is used by hundreds of thousands of people -- soldiers, police, journalists, bloggers, human-rights workers, citizens living under censorship and just ordinary people who object to online tracking by large corporations.

"A lot of the security comes from the diversity of users," Mr Dingledine said. "Some people don't want businesses to collect information about them, or they want to protect themselves against identity theft.

"Businesses use Tor to keep commercial secrets safe, the military uses it for intelligence gathering and communicating with field agents, journalists and bloggers use it to report from danger zones, while activists and whistleblowers use it to avoid persecution."

The belief that censorship or repression "won't happen to me" was part of the challenge for securing democracy worldwide.

Karen Dearne attended AusCERT 2010 as a guest of AusCERT.