Tor "Social Contract" Promises No Backdoors, High Community Standards

After dealing with a series of scandals, the Tor Project has implemented a “social contract” to improve member conduct.

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The Tor Project has implemented new community standards to improve member conduct, notably including a pledge against implementing backdoors.

The new standards are codified in a new six-point social contract, where members pledge to adhere to various standards of conduct, including transparency, honesty about technological capabilities, and a commitment to advancing human rights.

Most notable in the pledge is the sixth and final clause, which indicates the community’s commitment to avoid harming users, even when faced with outside pressure to do so:

“We take seriously the trust our users have placed in us. Not only will we always do our best to write good code, but it is imperative that we resist any pressure from adversaries who want to harm our users. We will never implement front doors or back doors into our projects. In our commitment to transparency, we are honest when we make errors, and we communicate with our users about our plans to improve.”

New standards come at the heels of a sexual abuse scandal and reorganization

The new community standards implemented come after a serious sexual abuse scandal rocked the project. Jacob Appelbaum, a senior developer for the Tor Project, resigned this year over allegations that he had bullied, harassed, and sexually abused numerous coworkers.

The Tor Project launched an investigation into the incident after several women came forward anonymously about Appelbaum’s conduct, with two eventually revealing themselves in an effort to encourage other victims to come forward.

As a result of this scandal, the Tor Project underwent a significant restructuring. This included completely replacing the board of directors, appointing a new executive director, and implementing new guidelines for dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct.

Tor development involvement can lead to government scrutiny

Developing for decentralized and encrypted tech projects such as Tor is a surefire way to attract government attention. According to leaked documents, the US National Security Agency flags as extremists users who so much as casually search for software such as Tor, Linux Tails, and “secure desktop,” as well as anyone who subscribes to Linux Journal.

Late last year, one of Tor’s developers (who was also a witness in the above mentioned sexual misconduct scandal), Isis Agora Lovecruft, fled the United States to Germany to avoid having to cooperate in an investigation by the FBI.

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