You Can Strengthen Anonymity, Privacy and Free Speech on the Internet by Running a Tor Relay

Kevin Gallagher

We're partnering with EFF, Tor Project, and Free Software Foundation on the Tor Challenge, a clarion call for people all over the world to support the Tor anonymity network in the most crucial way possible: by running relays.

Relays are the fundamental building blocks of Tor; they are the nodes through which your connection is routed as it gets anonymized. The more relays that are available, the faster, more robust and secure the whole network becomes — and those who rely upon Tor to circumvent censorship or protect their privacy benefit enormously.

In an age of digital surveillance, Tor has become incredibly important to a wide range of groups, such as human rights activists and NGOs, but especially journalists. In cases where the government is trying to identify a leaker, Tor might spare a source from heavy-handed prosecution. But for those operating in hostile environments such as an authoritarian dictatorship, using Tor might literally save your life. With the Tor Browser, an investigative journalist can research subjects on the web without being tracked or leaving an identifiable trace. They can also communicate with anonymous sources who might not otherwise speak to them, taking advantage of the security assurances of software which the NSA has admitted it is not able to break.

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Tor is vital to the design of SecureDrop, the open-source anonymous whistleblower submission system, which allows journalistic sources to conceal their location and activity from threats like leak investigations and government surveillance. In addition, we host a mirror of the Tor Project website, and our own website is available as a Tor hidden service. The Tor Challenge is based on the idea that we should all be doing more to ensure Tor’s future as a dependable tool. Existing relays are run almost entirely by volunteers. Even Edward Snowden understood the importance of relays — before he became famous, he ran at least three of them.

Media and news organizations, especially those already running SecureDrop, have strong incentives to add a Tor relay to their existing IT infrastructure. Not only would they be contributing to the project which most allows true privacy to thrive on the Internet and lets reporters research subjects anonymously, but they’d be giving back by strengthening a network that affords significant protection to potential whistleblowers who may have information that can result in truly ground-breaking stories which are a boon to those very outlets. In this way running a relay is a great investment.

If you are not able to run a relay for whatever reason, then we've already covered other ways you can support Tor in a previous post. Suggestions include: persuade your place of employment or somebody you know to run one, donate to the Tor Project through our website, introduce your friends to the Tor Browser or Tails operating system, or run a lesser middle relay or bridge node. Many people unfortunately shy away from running a relay due to unfounded legal concerns, so here is a useful legal FAQ for relay operators.

Overall, Tor is among the most well-known open-source encryption tools available to the public. It has been around for over a decade, and has been thoroughly vetted by experts. But without more relays being added continuously to keep up with the increase in traffic, Tor will have trouble meeting the demand of the millions of users who need it. That’s why we’re urging everyone to engage with the Tor Challenge. Please head over to the EFF website to find out more.

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