Tor Releases a ‘Social Contract’ : Never to Intentionally Harm Users

In an effort to further repair some of the tarnished reputation they have managed to garner, The Tor Project released a ‘social contract’ promising never to harm users.

Tor has admittedly had a rough start in 2016. Between managing the bad media attention during the Appelbaum scandal and several security threats, they’ve seemingly been doing everything possible to repair the reputation. A new board of directors has been appointed, they’ve released a new code of conduct, and announced a potential fix to the malicious node problem. And now, as of the 9th of August, the organization has published what they call a “social contract”.

Contained in this contract is a six-point list of who they are and what they plan to accomplish. It’s clear that the image being cultivated is that Tor exists to promote human rights. Aside from recent issues, Tor has the reputation for being a tool that promotes drug trafficking and, in some cases, weapons and child pornography. A side effect of the software allowing people to circumvent censorship in oppressive regimes and to anonymously exercise free speech is the usage of Tor for illicit activities.

“We are not just people who build software, but ambassadors for online freedom. We want everybody in the world to understand that their human rights — particularly their rights to free speech, freedom to access information, and privacy — can be preserved when they use the Internet.”

The group is clearly trying to steer away from the image of possible illicit usage, meanwhile reassuring Tor users that they “…will never implement front doors or back doors into our projects.” A concern shared by many is the relationship between Tor and the U.S. government. Not only was the U.S. government the initial developers of the onion routing concept but they have contributed between 80% and 90% of the funding for the project. Government backdoors are a rational fear.

Another major attribute portrayed is the group’s honesty. They want to be seen as transparent.  We are committed to transparency; therefore, everything we release is open and our development happens in the open.” They won’t intentionally mislead users: “We never intentionally mislead our users nor misrepresent the capabilities of the tools…” And they similarly write that they will be honest when mistakes or errors are made.

Some of the main points they portray are: The Onion Project exists to promote human rights, they will be transparent in both their software and mistakes, no intentional harm will be done to users, and that they believe a free society won’t create itself.

The six points from the post are below but the full text can be found here at the Tor blog.

  1. We advance human rights by creating and deploying usable anonymity and privacy technologies.

We believe that privacy, the free exchange of ideas, and access to information are essential to free societies. Through our community standards and the code we write, we provide tools that help all people protect and advance these rights.

  1. Open and transparent research and tools are key to our success.

We are committed to transparency; therefore, everything we release is open and our development happens in the open. Whenever feasible, we will continue to make our source code, binaries, and claims about them open to independent verification. In the extremely rare cases where open development would undermine the security of our users, we will be especially vigilant in our peer review by project members.

  1. Our tools are free to access, use, adapt, and distribute.

The more diverse our users, the less is implied about any person by simply being a Tor user. This diversity is a fundamental goal and we aim to create tools and services anyone can access and use. Someone’s ability to pay for these tools or services should not be a determining factor in their ability to access and use them. Moreover, we do not restrict access to our tools unless access is superseded by our intent to make users more secure.

We expect the code and research we publish will be reviewed and improved by many different people, and that is only possible if everyone has the ability to use, copy, modify, and redistribute this information. We also design, build, and deploy our tools without collecting identifiable information about our users.

  1. We make Tor and related technologies ubiquitous through advocacy and education.

We are not just people who build software, but ambassadors for online freedom. We want everybody in the world to understand that their human rights — particularly their rights to free speech, freedom to access information, and privacy — can be preserved when they use the Internet. We teach people how and why to use Tor and we are always working to make our tools both more secure and more usable, which is why we use our own tools and listen to user feedback. Our vision of a more free society will not be accomplished simply behind a computer screen, and so in addition to writing good code, we also prioritize community outreach and advocacy.

  1. We are honest about the capabilities and limits of Tor and related technologies.

We never intentionally mislead our users nor misrepresent the capabilities of the tools, nor the potential risks associated with using them. Every user should be free to make an informed decision about whether they should use a particular tool and how they should use it. We are responsible for accurately reporting the state of our software, and we work diligently to keep our community informed through our various communication channels.

  1. We will never intentionally harm our users.

We take seriously the trust our users have placed in us. Not only will we always do our best to write good code, but it is imperative that we resist any pressure from adversaries who want to harm our users. We will never implement front doors or back doors into our projects. In our commitment to transparency, we are honest when we make errors, and we communicate with our users about our plans to improve.

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