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Tor Project, a Digital Privacy Group, Reboots With New Board

The Tor Project, a nonprofit digital privacy group, on Wednesday replaced its board with a new slate of directors as part of a larger shake-up after allegations of sexual misconduct by a prominent employee.

The Tor Project promotes the use of software that helps internet users mask their online identities and whereabouts; the software was developed by the United States Naval Research Laboratory nearly 20 years ago. The group has been becoming better known in the last few years, as Tor is regarded as a useful tool to evade online tracking and government surveillance.

But the Tor Project has been plagued by controversy, most recently involving allegations of sexual misconduct by Jacob Appelbaum, the 33-year-old public face of Tor, who was asked to step down from the group in May.

Last December, the Tor Project appointed a new executive director, Shari Steele, partly to help restructure the group. She had previously spent 15 years as the executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Mr. Appelbaum has dodged allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct for years, and was suspended for two weeks last spring because of accusations of harassment. In May, new revelations of sexual misconduct emerged, and Ms. Steele led a push for Mr. Appelbaum's resignation. She said the Tor Project had been working with an independent investigator to look into the claims.

Mr. Appelbaum denied the accusations. In a statement last month, he said: "I want to be clear: The allegations of criminal sexual misconduct against me are entirely false." His publicist did not respond to further requests for comment.

After the controversy, all seven of Tor's board members agreed to give up their seats to make room for a new slate. In a joint statement on Wednesday, they said, "It is time that we pass the baton of board oversight as the Tor Project moves into its second decade of operations."

The new board is part of Ms. Steele's broader restructuring as she seeks to promote the legitimacy of the Tor Project. Apart from dealing with the allegations over Mr. Appelbaum, the organization has also struggled to fend off an image as a "Dark Web" tool used by drug dealers and pedophiles. An official from the Justice Department recently incorrectly cited a statistic claiming 80 percent of traffic on the Tor network involved child pornography. That statistic, however, came from a study involving a separate service, Tor Hidden Services, which accounts for less than 2 percent of all Tor traffic.

Since taking the Tor Project's helm, Ms. Steele has replaced its directors of human resources and administration, moved the project's base of operations to Seattle from Cambridge, Mass., recruited the new slate of directors, and searched for additional, alternative sources of funding.

Tor has received funding from private companies and nonprofits, including Google and Human Rights Watch, but 90 percent of its funding comes from government contracts and grants. That is a controversial source of funds for an organization that counts dissidents and activists looking to avoid government reprisals among its primary user base.

In an interview, Ms. Steele said the board moves were intended to "bring in a strong, leadership-oriented board with more experience leading a strong and sustainable organization." Recruiting new members, she said, had not been a challenge.

"All of them had been watching what was going on with Tor and were committed and enthusiastic about growing this into a stronger and sustainable organization," she said.

The departing directors are Meredith Hoban Dunn, Ian Goldberg, Julius Mittenzwei, Rabbi Rob Thomas, Wendy Seltzer and two of Tor's co-founders, Roger Dingledine and Nick Mathewson. Mr. Dingledine and Mr. Mathewson will remain as leaders of Tor's technical research and development.

Their successors include Matt Blaze, a widely known cryptographer and associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania; Cindy Cohn, Ms. Steele's successor as executive director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Bruce Schneier, a security author and expert; Gabriella Coleman, an anthropologist at the University of McGill who writes about online activism; Linus Nordberg, a longtime internet and privacy activist; and Megan Price, executive director of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group. The remaining board seat has yet to be filled.

[Source: By Nicole Perlroth, International New York Times, San Francisco, 13Jul16]

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