Electronic Freedom Foundation director, Jillian C. York admits to being “not that technical”

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Background

A couple of weeks ago during a random web surfing session I happened upon a series of articles at Pando about Tor and its questionable sources of funding. While I generally agree with the premise that when you’re dealing with encryption and privacy software, the source of its funding is not nearly as relevant as whether or not you can examine the source code, I found the reaction of Tor’s developers to Pando’s articles to be both unreasonable, outlandish and hypocritical. Were I in their shoes I would have simply said “Yes it’s true we receive significant funding from the government agencies, however the source code is available here and we believe it to be secure, please show us where there is a problem,” and then left it at that. Instead the developers proceeded to have SJW style meltdowns and began online harassment and smear campaigns against Pando’s Yasha Levine.

Personally, I can find common ground on both sides of this issue. On one hand, it is and always has been common knowledge that Tor is and was heavily funded by government agencies. It is also true that Tor source code has always been available for anyone that wishes to inspect and audit it. While I can see the point of view that Levine’s line of questioning was stupid and that he was reporting “non news,” I simply cannot understand the childish, temper tantrum reactions to Levine’s articles. Such reactions lend credibility to Levine, not to Tor and its developers.

Although I understand that it would be stupid to insert a backdoor into an open source encryption and privacy tool like Tor, especially one that the government relies upon for the security of their own spooks, it would not be unprecedented. Governments do idiotic things all the time. There is even specific precedent for government backdoors in open source privacy software in the form of Java Anonymous Proxy (aka JAP), although it was the German government not the US Government that was responsible for this particular scandal.

Jillian C. York

In exploring the various facets of the Pando/Tor affair I followed a link to the personal website of Jillian C. York, however I found that most (or perhaps even all) known Tor exit nodes were blocked. This seemed rather strange considering this a person who works as a director at the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) championing digital privacy rights and who wrote an article entitled “Why we need Tor now more than ever” in September 2014.

Jillian C York Blocks Tor

JillianCYork.com blocks Tor

I decided to ask York directly, via Twitter, why she blocks a technology that she encourages others to use. The exchange that followed was truly bizarre.

Screenshot of the complete exchange

Now keeping in mind that we’re dealing with someone that encourages people to use Tor to protect themselves in what very well may be life and death situations and holds a director level position at the Electronic Freedom Foundation, I found several of her statements to be rather disturbing:

Chillian J. Yikes! ‏@jilliancyork Oct 17
@dudestravel The “I’m not” referred to “I’m not really a Tor activist”

Chillian J. Yikes! ‏@jilliancyork Oct 17
@dudestravel It’s complicated. I’ve seen Tor work really well for folks; I don’t personally use it much tbh.

Chillian J. Yikes! ‏@jilliancyork Oct 17
@MikeTufekci I’d rather tell people I’m not technical than have them assume I’m capable of things I’m not.
0 retweets 0 favorites

Chillian J. Yikes! ‏@jilliancyork Oct 17
@MikeTufekci knowing how things work is not the same as knowing how to do things. I’m technical enough.

Chillian J. Yikes! ‏@jilliancyork Oct 17
@dudestravel I’m not [blocking Tor], my webhost is, and I’m in the process of switching webhosts. I’m not that technical, bear with me!

Apparently I was not the first person to notice this. At least one other person asked a similar question back in April 2015.

Screenshot

So let’s summarize: York doesn’t really use Tor, doesn’t really understand how Tor works, describes herself as “not that technical”, inadvertently blocked Tor on her own website and found unblocking Tor to be a complicated process that took her at least six months to complete. Yet she writes articles advising others on how to secure their online privacy and anonymity in potentially life or death scenarios. She also holds a director level position at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a organization whose stated mission involves using technology to protect privacy and freedom of speech. What sort of educational background qualifies her to do this work? A Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Binghamton University. So much for the “experts” at the EFF who advise us on digital privacy and security.




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