Last night was a great victory for internet freedom and anonymity, and once again showcases why New Hampshire is the right destination for the Free State Project. The Kilton Library of Lebanon decided to turn its first-in-the-nation Tor relay node back on!
Backstory: In June of this year, Kilton Library’s Board of Trustees voted to install a Tor relay in their library, which runs on a GNU/Linux environment. Working with the Library Freedom Project, this small town library became the first in the country to allow a Tor relay to operate. In early August, the Department of Homeland Security’s Internet Crimes Against Children contacted the Lebanon Police department, who in turn contacted the library to warn that Tor could potentially be used for nefarious purposes, including child pornography. The library’s director decided to shut down the relay until the Board had a chance to weigh in.
Last night: The Board, after hearing from the community, let their June motion stand to implement Tor, and the node was switched back on moments after the meeting. The hearing was held in what appeared to be the Children’s Reading room in the basement of the library, replete with fluffy stuff animals perched on a shelf above the board’s heads. It was jam-packed, standing room only, with 50+ people ranging from several generations of computer geeks, to ruddy-faced, grey-haired librarians from Vermont who came out to support free speech.
A dozen or so TOR/open source supporters, pre-staters and early movers alike, held a rally beforehand, holding signs like: “We Support Our Library,” “1984 Was Not Supposed To Be An Instruction Manual,” “DHS Out of NH!” “Live free . . . or Tor. Free the Library,” “Big Brother is Watching You,” and “NH Tor DHS a New One.”
A group of free roaming pre-teens joined the fun, grabbing signs and chanting “Privacy Matters!” at cars driving by, but only after we discussed the issue with them: Imagine your mom could read your diary anytime she likes, without telling you, and then use it against you later. Interestingly, the kids seemed genuinely surprised to learn their phones could be surveilled–“They can see what’s on my phone!?! Wut? Really?“–apparently they thought it only related to desktop computers.
When Alison Macrina and Nima Fatemi from the Library Freedom Project arrived from Boston, both were was visibly moved and excited, and Alison declared: “This is the first pro-Tor protest in the world!”
Support was overwhelmingly in favor of turning the node back on. According to the library director, they received many emails: 14 from Lebanon residents (13 for Tor, 1 against) and 75 others (74 for, 1 against). I wrote one too, talking about how growing up in South Africa under apartheid and being subjected to state sanctioned censorship makes me skeptical of the DHS’s position. Other than the deputy city manager and the deputy police chief of Lebanon, who said their position was simply about “making an informed decision,” and was not aimed at “pitting freedom of speech against law enforcement, or the city of Lebanon against the Department of Homeland Security,” not one person spoke against the Tor relay.
People who spoke in favor of this vital internet freedom tool included the NHCLU, the Dartmouth computer department, Jason Sorens, several early movers, and a former social worker from Columbia who became quite emotional, saying she wished, “Tor had been available in my home country 15 years ago.” She said the library’s support for freedom of speech, “Made me proud to be here.”
Jason Sorens and others mentioned that shutting down this historic project now would create a chilling effect and set a terrible precedent for the future. Alison Macrina said due to the press this matter has received, several other libraries are interested in participating in the program. Viva!
Afterwards, we headed to Salt Hill for drinks and dinner. The air was alive with camaraderie and that sense of accomplishment you get from doing something important, and seeing immediate, positive results. Yesterday was a historic day for internet freedom and privacy, and Lebanon, NH, was the location for the first pro-Tor protest in the world (thanks to all who came!). For me, it was just what the doctor ordered: A shot in the arm for liberty!
- NPR’s All Things Considered audio clip
- Union Leader’s take
- NPR covers the win
- Youtube interview with library staff
- ArsTechnica covers the shut down
- Concord Monitor covers the win
- Free Keene breaks the story
- Truth in Media covers issue
- Valley News covers suspension
- Truth in Media covers the victory
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated it was an Tor exit relay node. This has been corrected.
Carla Gericke (JD, MFA) is an advocate of liberty specializing in localized voluntarism, internet freedom, self-determination, and how responsible human action can lead to peace and prosperity. She is president emeritus of the Free State Project, and lives in New Hampshire with tens of thousands of fellow Ron Paul supporters. In 2014, Carla won a landmark case affirming the 1st Amendment right to film police encounters. She now serves as president of the Foundation for NH Independence, a 501c3 nonprofit that educates Granite Staters on the advantages of peacefully separating from the federal government. Carla is currently running as a Republican candidate for NH State Senate in the Queen City and Goffstown (District 20).