A developer for Tor, an encrypted web browser, fled the United States in order to avoid cooperating with the FBI with a hacking investigation.

The developer, known as Isis Agora Lovecruft, was contacted by the FBI, which sought to subpoena her to appear in court in order to testify in a criminal hacking investigation. Instead, she quickly packed her belongings and fled to Germany last December.

Legal protection sought from the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Lovecruft was contacted by FBI Special Agent Mark W. Burnett, who left his card with the cryptic message: “Please call me.” Fearing being pressured into helping compromise the Tor system and damaging the privacy of its users, Lovecruft got in contact with a lawyer, who then contacted Burnett. The FBI at this point would not say why they had contacted Lovecruft in the first place, and declined to meet with her with her attorney present, saying that they would instead approach her directly. Shortly thereafter Lovecruft left the country.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to securing online privacy and free speech, has taken up her case. According to EFF attorney Nate Cardazzo, Lovecruft’s wishes for the FBI to explain their reason for contacting her, and to be able to return to the US without fear for her safety.

“Her primary goal is to make sure she can come back to the United States when she wants to do that, and to have threats of subpoenas explained or go away.”

The FBI’s ongoing attempt to compromise Tor

Tor, which recently claimed in excess of 1 million users accessing Facebook through the encrypted browser, has been a particular target of the FBI’s efforts to de-anonymize the internet. Earlier this year, Matt Edman, a former Tor developer who left the project in 2009, was caught developing malware to allow the FBI to locate Tor users.