The legislation comes after last year’s incident in Lebanon, New Hampshire, when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) caused a Tor relay to be removed from the Kilton Public Library.
Tor allows internet traffic to be bounced over three relays, using three layers of encryption, making the original IP address undetectable. The traffic passes through a final “exit relay” before reaching its final destination, and the IP address of that last relay is signaled as the source of the traffic (rather than its actual source IP address).
As they conceal the original IP address, Tor exit relays are sometimes used for illegal activity online, drawing the attention of law enforcement agencies.
The Department of Homeland Security emailed the local police about Kilton Public Library’s use of the anonymous internet browsing service last September, leading to a meeting between local law enforcement, city officials, and the library.
The Tor relay at the library was suspended for a week before being restored after a vote by the library board of trustees.
— Nima Fatemi (@mrphs) September 16, 2015
Sean Fleming, the library’s IT director, told ArsTechnica before the vote that there was “no pressure from the feds at all.”
This first of its kind bill was put forward by Republican Representative Keith Ammon in a response to that incident, and sponsored by six other lawmakers.
— Nima Fatemi (@mrphs) February 18, 2016
Although running Tor or similar programs is perfectly legal for public libraries, the legislation is being seen as a strong show of support for the right to use such privacy software.
The Library Freedom Project helped draft the bill. The Daily Dot reports that project’s founder Alison Macrina said: “I think that no matter what happens, whether this passes or not, it’s a pretty important step in recognizing these things are really important, and law enforcement and intelligence agencies are threatening our right to use them,” she said.
Although Tor is largely funded by the US government, the National Security Agency (NSA) has made repeated attempts to develop attacks against people using Tor, according to the Guardian.
The discussion on digital security versus national security reached a pivotal point this week when Apple CEO, Tim Cook revealed the company does not intend to comply with an FBI request to create a “backdoor” to the iPhone so investigators can access data on the phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters.