Do you use decentralized, open source software? The US government considers you an extremist.

According to leaked documents related to the XKeyscore spying program, the National Security Agency (NSA) flags as an “extremist” anyone who uses Tor or Tails Linux, or who subscribes to Linux Journal.

The potentially huge scope of the “extremist” label

The XKeyscore program, which considers Tails Linux distribution as “a comsec mechanism advocated by extremists on extremist forums”, has the potential to target a large pool of users. It tracks visits to a plethora of sites including Centurian,,, HotSpotShield, FreeNet, MegaProxy, MixMinion, and of course the Linux Journal. Additionally, it tracks IP addresses of anyone searching for terms such as ‘truecrypt’, ‘ tor’, and ‘Amnesiac Incognito Live System’, along with much more benign terms such as ‘secure desktop’, ‘IRC’, ‘linux’, and even ‘USB’ and ‘CD’.

The result of this large scope is that many users never intending to engage in subversive activity will be tracked. This includes journalists and the generally curious looking up Tor and other decentralized internet programs, as well as the casual user seeking a more secure computer, a better operating system, or even external storage.

The US government’s history of targeting Tor and file-sharing developers

The tracking and vilification of those involved with the decentralized internet is nothing new for the US government. Aaron Swartz famously killed himself after facing a potential long imprisonment for his information sharing efforts, and New Zealand tech entrepreneur Kim Dotcom had his site Megaupload shut down and his assets seized (though he is working on a relaunch).

More recently, a Tor developer sought by the FBI to appear in court to testify on the subject of her work, fled to Germany to avoid the US government’s grasp, fearing imprisonment or worse.