Why Tor Matters

As far back as I can remember, I have been introspectively concerned and cautious about my physical safety and well being.

I believe this consciousness started when I was 4 years old. To this day I have vivid memories of being terribly frightened by the thought and act of jumping off of a 1-meter diving board into the deep end of a swimming pool. This was a routine occurrence for me as a child because swimming was the first sport I ever took part in.

Following swimming, at the age of 5, and following the footsteps of my older brother, I began training in martial arts. Karate, for me, taught me about physical awareness and control.

Attack

Around my 8th year of life, my mother and brothers became victim to an individual who ultimately forced us to make a decision for our need to do something about the domestic violence we were all wrapped up in. My family could continue to endure the abuse of said individual, or buy a gun and in an act of self-defense potentially commit an act of violence so severe that none of us would ever again be the same, or we could physically move ourselves to a safer location.

The only reason why buying a gun was an option to my mother was because having consulted with the state police, their recommendation was to “shoot the bastard.” We were told there were no laws to help us defend ourselves. This wasn’t an acceptable way of life to my family.

I don’t know if it was because my mother’s martial arts training, her genuine regard for human life, or a combination of the two, but we fit everything into our car that we could and moved to Washington state. In order to best protect everyone involved, we physically relocated our entire family’s life, leaving behind my mother’s house and all of our friends. It was not easy, but from our point of view, necessary.

Defense

When my family and I moved to Washington state, my mother took part in domestic violence survival education and we quickly became participants in the Address Confidentiality Program (ACP). The benefits of the ACP included requiring government institutions to use our Secretary of State -provided P.O. Box address as our physical location address. This is a critical feature because our (United States of America) way of life is built around the documentation of our physical residence, including but not limited to the public information made available via mandatory State identification licensing, school registration, vehicle licensing, and common utilities such as water, trash, and power.

For a determined adversary, it is trivial to research or social engineer physical location information from public and private databases. Sadly, since the age of 8, I have been forced to understand the values of privacy as it concerns physical location safety.

Intellectual development

The Internet became a critical facet of my life, almost as much as Pokemon, during my late elementary and middle school years. In the late nineties, my mother saw so much value in a general-purpose computer for me and my brothers that she saved up and purchased a 500MHz Compaq. Life was never the same for me because of my new ability to read, download, and share so much, and without the restrictions imposed at school libraries.

It wasn’t until my second or third year at university where I became exposed to Tor from material I had read on Global Voices. However, at the time, because I was learning about computer networking and Virtual Private Networks, I remember being skeptical to the emergence of a technology dependent on volunteers. I did not understand the value of Tor until several years later.

My routine Tor use started sometime in 2010, around the time that I moved to the Seattle area. Prior to 2010, I had spent several years moving around between a total of roughly 25 different dormitories, apartments, and houses because of my prolonged undergraduate university studentship. Moving to the Seattle area had been my goal for many years. I moved into my first, independently financed, one-bedroom apartment. I finally started understanding the burden that is adulthood and the wonders and consequences of independence.

My use of Tor became routine because of two reasons: one, to enhance my autonomy and independence, which was flourishing for me. The second reason, and probably the catalyst, was my childhood and family’s paranoia concerning our prior experiences of physical and mental violence. I became increasingly conscious of physical location information left behind on the Internet, a place I visited more often than I did my own kitchen.

In 2012, after 6 years of minor Wikipedia editing, I contacted Wikipedia’s administration asking for the ability to edit from the Tor network. Shockingly, they did not support my wishes.

Rights

Tor matters because of several human and United States’ rights.

The right to read is a fundamental requirement because of humanity’s need for the consumption, understanding, construction, and dissemination of information over time. Writing things down is an extension of our ability, as a species, to learn and to teach for our collective betterment. Independently, I cannot contribute to society without an unbounded right to access information.

The right to speak, or to contribute, is a fundamental requirement as an individual needing to sustain autonomy and connection. Without the unfettered ability to communicate with those around me, especially on the Internet, I cannot be a part of any system, small or large. Be it a need to warn others about problems, or a need to educate others about myself or our shared world, the right to freely express myself overwhelmingly supports the human condition.

The right to privacy is a fundamental human right that reinforces the development of the prior two rights above, something that cannot be understated. The right to intellectually develop in an autonomous way is the only power I have that not only dictates my individuality, but it supports responsibility in social contexts. I cannot hold myself accountable without the cognitive ability to process information in a way that distinguishes myself from my environments.

The right to read, the right to speak, and the right to privacy are things that the Internet and Tor empower me to exercise in a truly incredible way. If we are to survive as a culture and as a species, Tor has to be understood as a defining technology that embodies the values that we claim to have and want.