The revelations that the Tor project had to fire a third of its staff this week sent shockwaves through the privacy community. The news came after the non-profit organization was forced to downsize due to the economic impact caused by the global coronavirus pandemic.
The Tor's Onion browser is viewed by privacy advocates as an essential service for maintaining privacy and anonymity online. The free browser is an essential utility for those at risk, including journalists, human rights activists, lawyers, protesters and political dissidents, to name a few.
The recent announcement came from Tor's blog. The disheartening post explained that, unfortunately, staff were laid off due to a sudden and acute decrease in funding.
Tor, like much of the world, was caught in the COVID-19 crisis. Like many other nonprofits and small businesses, the crisis hit us hard and we had to make tough decisions. We had to give up 13 great people who helped make Tor available to millions of people around the world.
The impact of contact tracking on confidentiality may not be temporary
For privacy advocates around the world, Tor's sudden need to downsize can be viewed as a source of concern. Since the start of the pandemic, governments around the world have adopted emergency regulations that allow for increased monitoring and surveillance. And, while the need to address COVID-19 is unmistakable, it is also essential to examine how new follow-up measures may affect citizens' future privacy.
Fortunately, several governments are imposing temporary measures with sunset clauses. This is acceptable, as it ensures that any increased surveillance is measured, appropriate and limited in nature. However, not all countries have these important sunset clauses in their emergency measures – which has raised concerns from groups such as Privacy International, Digital Rights Watch, Fight For the Future and individuals like Edward Snowden.
The world will no longer be the same after this crisis, and the need for confidentiality and secure access to information will become more urgent.
Isabela's warning is a sentiment echoed by major privacy organizations around the world, who agree that there is the potential for serious privacy implications.
On the one hand, reasonable and measured responses to control the spread of COVID-19 are absolutely necessary. On the other, it is essential that governments are held accountable, that privacy is preserved, that human rights are respected and that essential privacy services like Tor remain available to those who need them – both during and after the pandemic.
After all, the loss of all vital privacy services due to the pandemic would mean a huge loss for citizens around the world, eliminating their ability to communicate and protest against oppression, discrimination, prejudice and totalitarianism in the whole world.
For Tor, which relies on donations to maintain its platform, the economic impact of the pandemic is already being felt. The difficulties caused by the pandemic have led to a decrease in the number and size of donations. Fortunately, however, the company is confident that it will be able to continue to provide services to users with other members of its team.
We are terribly sad to lose these precious teammates, and we want to let all of our users and supporters know that Tor will continue to provide privacy, security and censorship bypass services to all who need them.
Help support Tor today
The services Tor provides continue to be important to many people around the world. And, for Tor to continue developing and maintaining its servers and software – including the Tor browser pack and the Tor anonymity network – it will continue to demand donations from citizens.
We understand that COVID-19 causes enormous difficulties in all areas, and that it is difficult to think of making a donation during such a crisis. However, if confidentiality is something you are passionate about and you are lucky enough to be able to donate, Tor is a good cause that will even benefit from a small donation.
Donate to Tor