The U.S. government has always appeared to be opposed to Tor due to the nature of illegal activities the software can enable. It appears, though, that certain government officials have no problems vocally endorsing the use of Tor.
“That’s not a good way to protect your stuff, because the FBI can go through it like eggshells,” Judge Robert Jenson Bryan says. He disagrees with the DoJ employee’s recommendation.
Tor, from the very start, has been intertwined with the U.S. government. Not only did Tor spawn from government researchers but the U.S. has contributed to at least 80% of The Onion Project’s funding for the software. In fact in 2015, Tor opened up crowd-funding to become less reliant on the U.S. government (and of course to allow spending flexibility).
In the 1990’s, employees of the United States Naval Research Laboratory created the essence of the Tor we know. Onion routing was developed to protect intelligence data from spying eyes. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency picked up the project in the late 90s. After several showcases and an alpha version, the project’s source code was released by the NRL in 2004. The EFF picked up the project and funded the two developers contracted to work on it, Roger Dingledine and Nick Mathewson. Two Boston based programmers contracted by the Pentagon.
Government funding became the primary influx of money after 2006. The funding mostly consisted of government funded deals and “pass through” grants.
It’s not hard to believe the government completely opposes the software. A perfect example of this is the NSA calling Tor users “extremists.” The connection between the government and Tor being constantly downplayed.
However, this isn’t always the case. The director for the Cybercrime Lab at the Department of Justice, Ovie Carroll, told a room full of federal judges to “use the TOR network to protect their personal information on their computers, like work or home computers, against data breaches, and the like,” Judge Robert J. Bryan said in a hearing transcript. Carroll specializes in cyberattacks and combating electronic penetrations. With over 25-years of law enforcement experience, what he says often carries weight. He’s an authoritative presence on the topic at George Washington University as well.
Judge Robert Jenson Bryan says “I was surprised to hear him urge the federal judges present,” and continued with “I almost felt like saying, ‘That’s not a good way to protect your stuff, because the FBI can go through it like eggshells.’” Bryan has resided over several cases involving the cybercrime and Tor, including several related to Operation Playpen. One of the most noteworthy is his ruling against the government in evidence obtained by the FBI’s NIT deployment in the US vs. Michaud case.
According to data obtained by Motherboard, Judge Bryan is not the only U.S. government official who has endorsed the usage of Tor for privacy. Some of the emails Motherboard was able to access were of a Philadelphia-based FBI computer scientist advocating Tor’s usage to Lebanese officials.
Regardless of the way it appears, the U.S. government needs Tor for the purposes the software was designed for.
“The United States government can’t simply run an anonymity system for everybody and then use it themselves only. Because then every time a connection came from it people would say, “Oh, it’s another CIA agent.” If those are the only people using the network.”
—Roger Dingledine, co-founder of the Tor Network, 2004