The Italian Anti-Corruption Authority (ANAC) launched its national online whistleblowing platform using Tor onion services. The move is meant to encourage whistleblowers to expose corruption and other illegal activities in organizations while protecting their identities.
Tor At The Core Of Digital Whistleblowing Platforms
Even though Tor has often been criticized for enabling cyber crime because of its capability to make someone anonymous on the web (much as everyone once was before intelligence agencies gained the ability to tap into and analyze the world’s internet traffic in real-time), anonymity is by itself a tool that could be used for both good and evil.
In countries with more oppressive governments, anonymity may be the only thing that allows citizens to speak up against cruel and unfair leadership. Over the past few years, especially since Edward Snowden himself made use of Tor to distribute NSA documents to journalists, we’ve seen an increased use of Tor to power whistleblowing platforms such as SecureDrop or GlobaLeaks.
GlobaLeaks is an open source whistleblowing framework that lets anyone, including media organizations, activist groups, corporations, and even public agencies setup and maintain a whistleblowing platform. It’s essentially a web app running on Tor onion service that allows journalists and whistleblowers to exchange sensitive information anonymously. The project was created in 2011 by a group of Italians, but is now developed by the Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights.
The Italian ANAC must have seen how promising Tor is for enabling whistleblowing, because the agency has adopted the GlobaLeaks software to power its own whistleblowing platform, with some customization of its own.
Additionally, the Italian Parliament also passed a new law last year that required the adoption of IT systems for whistleblowing. Considering how Tor is almost a necessity if you want real anonymity on the web and that it powers at least 60 whistleblowing platforms at the moment, through GlobaLeaks, ANAC’s move seems to make sense.
Tor Going Mainstream?
Tor is starting to be adopted at an accelerated pace by media organizations, nonprofits, and cities. We’re now starting to see national agencies embrace it, too, as they all realize it’s an important tool that enables real anonymity and can be used for good.
The Tor network has recently received a major upgrade with the third version of onion services, which will increase the anonymity of the onion services on the Tor network. The Tor browser is also expected to receive a significant update soon, once it switches to the Firefox ESR v60 (opens in new tab) base. Firefox ESR v60 will adopt all of the latest Firefox Quantum features, including the significantly more secure multi-process sandboxing architecture.
Mozilla has also started adopting some of the Tor’s browser unique anti-tracking features, and we may eventually see some deeper integration of the Tor network into Firefox, too, which could lead to the Tor network becoming even more mainstream.
In the meantime, the Tor Project development team can only move as fast as its donations budget can rise, so the more well funded the team becomes, the faster Tor could become more mainstream.