ZeroPaid Speaks to Executive Director of Tor Project About PROTECT-IP Act

We’ve discussed the PROTECT-IP Act at length here at ZeroPaid. While we have plenty of ways of examining the PROTECT-IP Act, we’ve decided to talk to Andrew Lewman, the Executive Director of Tor Project, about Tor, and the PROTECT-IP Act.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

There’s been plenty of discussion about the PROTECT-IP Act. One way we’ve examined it is the technical side of it. The main question we asked a little while ago is essentially, is it technologically possible to actually stop alleged piracy on the internet through the PROTECT-IP Act. Our findings were really an overwhelming “no” after we explored 8 technical methods that, in theory, could easily circumvent DNS censorship. We even picked apart and debunked a piece by Don Henley who supports the PROTECT-IP Act late last month.

One of the technical measures we suggested would be likely effective against DNS censorship was using Tor which is sometimes referred to as the onion router. It can be described as a network of proxies one can use to better protect their online privacy among other things. Since then, we asked Andrew Lewman, Executive Director and press contact of the Tor Project for his take on a few things.

We mentioned to Lewman that there was some debate over which solution was best to bi-pass internet censorship. Is one solution better over another? This was the subject of some debate in our comments section and websites linked to our article. Lewman had an interesting take on that.

“The first issue with the story is that there is no best solution for everyone. Censorship circumvention is very localized. Generally, using the least sophisticated method to circumvent is all you need to do.” Lewman also explained, “The arms races with the censors proceeds slowly, in some cases by design, so as to not accelerate it for little gain on either side. The general population cannot keep up with the technical arms race, at least from our experience. It takes time for people to understand the risks and act accordingly.”

I think that is a very important point to make. It’s one thing to say one person will start using tools to better protect their privacy, but it’s quite another for the general population in a given country to start using such tools.

In our e-mail conversation, I said to Lewman, “one person [in the debate over whether or not one technical measure is better than another] said that officials would start creating honey-pot nodes in the Tor network. To me, that doesn’t make any sense because Tor uses multiple proxies, so it would make such an effort be almost a waste of time.”

“Law enforcement organizations already create ‘honey pot’ servers on many networks, including Tor. These servers fully log all accesses at a service, network, and ISP level. If the core, underlying protocol is
correctly implemented, then the users have little to fear. Law enforcement agencies around the world are known to run Tor, I2P, Freenet, and generic socks/http proxies servers as part of a dragnet to catch criminals. While this statement may get you lots of page views, anyone that has thought about this for 30 seconds will realize this is of course the reality. Whether protecting someone’s audio/video bits is equivalent to murder, rape, extortion, bribery, and slavery is for individual societies to determine.”

It is interesting that Lewman brought this up given one of our more recent reports noted that, in France, someone could get the same legal punishment for manslaughter as they would for online copyright infringement.

We asked Lewman, “looking at what lawmakers are proposing in the PROTECT-IP Act, do you think that the proposed law is a threat to the internet? If DNS censorship is one way the government wants to remove remove copyright infringement, do you see that as being effective or do you see potential pirates simply routing their way around it?”

“PROTECT-IP will break the American Internet.” Lewman told ZeroPaid. He said, “It will simply move innovation elsewhere and drive the arms race towards an alternate domain name system not controlled by the US government. It may temporarily quell some sorts of piracy, but that victory will be short lived. In the
beginning, there were many DNS root servers, not one single set. AlterNIC and many universities ran their own DNS root servers for their own purposes. Having spoken to various agents, they privately wonder why protecting someone’s
commercial bits is now equivalent to stopping child pornography, human trafficking, and other heinous crimes.”

ZeroPaid also asked, “if governments like the US government decide on trying to censor the internet, do you see it being possible that users will start using things like Tor more so than before because of a perceived threat to something like free speech?”

It’s already happening. See [Tor Metrics Portal – User Statistics]

Lewman explained, “Our top ten countries by users is filled with “free democracies” that have started to either censor the Internet or implement Internet traffic data retention in some way.”

We would like to thank Andrew Lewman for taking the time out of his busy schedule to speak to us.

To learn more about Tor Project or download and try out Tor project or otherwise support Tor in general, you can check out their homepage at

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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