Public library bucks Dept. of Homeland Security, supports controversial Tor network

September 16, 2015, 8:21 PM UTC
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Less than a week after the first library to support anonymous Internet browsing pulled the plug on its Tor network relay—a technology designed to mask the identity of Internet users—its board of trustees has voted to restore the device’s operation.

The Kilton Public Library, based in West Lebanon, N.H., began supporting the Tor project, a non-profit organization that develops and promotes online anonymity software, in July. Not long after, a U.S. Department of Homeland security agent contacted the library to notify its staff of the technology’s risks.

Child pornographers and other criminals, for instance, can exploit the network to hide their tracks when sending and receiving illicit materials. The network works by shuffling traffic through several encrypted channels in order to obscure its origins.

The technology is also popular with political activists and dissenters as a way to get around the censorship of authoritarian regimes.

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The library held a forum to hear from the community on Tuesday night. After listening to the opinions of the public, the board of trustees upheld its original June decision for the library to run a Tor node—also known as a relay—using its excess bandwidth, reports The Concord Monitor, a N.H. newspaper.

“With any freedom there is risk,” Francis Oscadal, chairman of the library board, told the newspaper. “It came to me that I could vote in favor of the good…or I could vote against the bad. I’d rather vote for the good because there is value to this.”

Chuck McAndrew, an IT Librarian at Lebanon Public Libraries, told Fortune via email: “Our resident’s knowledge and engagement with privacy issues made me extremely proud to be a member of this community.” He added: “Every single comment made was in support of this project and I think that is a great tribute to our citizens.”

The library is a member of the Library Freedom Project, an initiative started by Alison Macrina, a self-proclaimed “evangelist” for libraries and cryptography. “We’re absolutely thrilled by the library’s decision,” Macrina told Fortune in an email.

Fortune has reached out to the Department of Homeland Security for comment as well.

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