(Written as a LTE to NH newspapers in response to controversy over a NH library running Tor.)

Sometimes it can be easy to feel that freedom of speech just is, like a physical law of nature. Unquestionable, omnipresent, incontrovertible.

But history tells us this is not the case. In reality, the struggle for the freedom to voice an opinion requires constant vigilance. Vigilance against people like Matthew Isham of the Lebanon Police Department.

A few months ago, the Library Freedom Project got together with the Kilton Library to set up a Tor node. A Tor node is a computer program that facilitate anonymous communication online by accepting and forwarding data.

In response, the Boston Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the Lebanon Police Department, leaned on the library to shut it down. They claimed the library was supporting terrorism and criminals.

Can Tor be used by criminals? Absolutely. So can a knife. But when a criminal uses a knife, we don’t go after the knife manufacturers. We go after the criminals. The Lebanon Police department chose to go after the knife manufacturers.

The ability to communicate anonymously is essential to a free society. When Thomas Paine published Common Sense in 1776, he did so anonymously. Would the pamphlet that helped spark the revolution ever have been written if he had to put his name on it?

Anonymous communication is no less vital today. It is used in dozens of countries with oppressive governments. It was used by the reporters who broke the news that our own government has been spying on our calls and emails for years while lying to us about it.

When the Kilton Library set up a Tor node, they may not have realized they were part of an endless struggle between those who believe in freedom and those who would control us.

When they vote on Tuesday whether to continue running Tor, I hope they choose freedom. And I hope more libraries join them.

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