rid-of-revenge

Tor has been caught in the crossfire between a Texas lawyer and a revenge porn site that posts lewd photos and videos without their subjects’ consent. The secure browsing tool, which allows its users to visit the so-called “dark Web” hidden from most Internet users, is accused of helping the site continue operating despite previous attempts to shut it down and delete its contents.

The case raises an interesting question: Should the providers of tools like Tor’s be held liable for the actions of their users? It’s hard to argue that the site shouldn’t be shut down — it posts intimate content of people alongside their social media profiles and encourages people to hack into someone’s personal accounts to steal content. Society is better off without sites like that.

But arguing that Tor should be included in the lawsuit, which is seeking $1 million in damages for the people affected by the site’s continued operation, isn’t quite as understandable. It’s not giving the site special treatment or endorsing its contents; it’s simply providing the same tools that it provides to websites that range from glorified drug peddlers to secure messaging tools.

The entire point of the service is keeping some things from the government’s hands. That often means providing tools to people using them for illegal purposes, but it also means that others will be able to use those tools for less nefarious purposes, like avoiding censorship or spying. (Though, ironically enough, showing interest in Tor could make you a prime target for spying.)

The Verge explains this in its report on Tor’s implication in this lawsuit:

Pink Meth, which dedicates part of its front page to thumbing its nose at critics, prominently thanks Tor for making it possible to operate and urges users to donate to the project. But Tor is agnostic about the capabilities it enables, which range from getting around oppressive government firewalls to buying illegal drugs. It has no hand in “registering” sites that use it, even if Van Dyke claims that Pink Meth’s operation signifies “continued tolerance and endorsement.” The servers behind hidden services are difficult to find and shut down, and law enforcement so far has only been able to do so by looking for sloppy user behavior to exploit.

CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince has previously argued that some services can’t be held responsible for what their users post. His company had received criticism for helping an extremist website stand against repeated cyberattacks meant to remove it from the Web. In response, he said that it’s CloudFlare’s job to protect its users, not to police their content.

The same argument can be applied to Tor. The tool isn’t responsible for its users’ actions. It’s a shame that revenge porn sites can use its services to avoid being shut down, but that’s not its fault, and it’s not Tor’s place to decide what can or can’t be done with its tools. Shutting down this website is admirable, but implicating Tor in the process doesn’t truly solve anything.

[image via comicbookplus]