U.S. Government Funded TOR Network

It's almost a philosophical question: if you create a product used to commit a crime, are you as guilty as the criminal who wields it? This is the question being asked of the Tor Project, a collection of software that offers users complete anonymity online and serves as a portal to some of the web's less reputable content. A Texas lawsuit is putting the technology under fire, accusing the organization of conspiring with an anonymous revenge porn website to shield it from "being held civilly and criminally accountable." The plaintiff says is seeking damages of upwards of $1 million for Tor's part in the alleged conspiracy.

Most of the lawsuit focuses on Pinkmeth, the pornography service that allegedly posted illegal nude images of the plaintiff, but Tor's being hooked for the site's use of its Hidden Service Protocol. Tor advertises this technology as a way to "let users publish web sties and other services without needing to reveal the location of the site," and it's the same kind of tech Silk Road and other illicit websites have used to hide from the long arm of the law. Tor's privacy protocol isn't inherently illegal, however, so the plaintiff will have to prove that Tor actively conspired with Pinkmeth to obscure illegal activities.

The plaintiff argues that Tor's own descriptions of its services reveal that it knowingly assists websites like Pinkmeth in creating illegal services, similar to how some gun control advocates place responsibility on firearm manufactures for creating weapons that can be used for crime. It's possible Tor's part in the lawsuit will be tossed out under protection of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, but in the meantime it poses an interesting question: if a crime wasn't possible without the use of a specific product, who is at fault? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

[Image credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]

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