Remember that New Hampshire public library which suspended its Tor relay after being approached by local law enforcement (who were tipped off by Homeland Security)? Well, after due consideration (and a vote by the library board), the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon, NH has decided to turn the relay back on, Ars Technica reports.
The Feds claim that they have “no opinion” about the operation of the Tor router, which is not illegal in and of itself but can be put to illegal uses. That doesn’t explain why they felt the need to tip off the local police about the matter, though. For their part, local law enforcement seems to be trying to backpedal, too.
At Tuesday’s meeting, both Deputy City Manager Paula Maville and Deputy Police Chief Phillip Roberts said they had not intended to “strong-arm” the library board into making a particular decision.
“We simply came in as law enforcement and said, ‘These are the concerns,’ ” Roberts said during the meeting. “We wanted to inform everyone so it was an educated decision by everyone involved.”
The way in which they presented those concerns sounds a bit ominous—“Nice library you’ve got here. Be a shame if you were found to be doing something illegal…”—but that’s probably beside the point. What with all the national attention the matter has received, I think everyone involved could safely be said to have been “educated” now.
And with all the extra attention this has brought to the idea of hosting Tor routers, I wouldn’t be surprised if considerably more public libraries signed up to take part in the program. That could give the Tor program a significant boost from the 1,000-or-so routers it has worldwide now.
It’s worth remembering that, in providing anonymized browsing, Tor offers political dissidents ways to bypass censorship imposed by restrictive regimes in order to obtain information they never could before, even as it also makes it possible for drug dealers and other criminals to operate in secrecy. Just because the network can be put to criminal use doesn’t mean the good uses should be thrown away.