Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Because I ran Tor, the police took all my computers.

What is Tor?

"Tor is a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet."

Tor has been used by people in China to avoid censorship, access news sites, and get around the Great Firewall of China.

People in Iran used Tor during the recent elections to get their word out to the world.

Normal people use Tor, for various reasons. You might want to help the Tor network grow.
(In fact, the very easy-to-use Tor Bundle means you can also run it and/or use it, without understanding anything about how it works.)

Anyway, I had been running a Tor relay node for a few months.

Friday, I was waiting for a package to arrive. I heard a knock on the door, much louder than you would expect from a delivery person. I went down steps (still in my pajamas, as I was working from home), and saw four Men in Blue at my door. I opened it and was told they had a search warrant for my house. They put their battering ram down, and my girlfriend and I were asked to wait outside while they did a preliminary search of the premises.

The search warrant contained as evidence of probable cause one hour-long IRC chat session (showing origination from my IP address) with an undercover NY state trooper and a perp who claimed to have a boy kidnapped and locked up, along with pictures and videos.

From this evidence, they took three of our digital cameras, my two laptops, two desktop computers, and two external harddrives. They could have taken more, but I think it was pretty clear to the six officers that searched our house that we were not involved.

They said they would get to it as soon as possible and return our property, but sometimes the forensics office has a backlog (of up to six months!).

I guess this is what they mean by "Freedom isn't free."


Anonymous said...

Todd-- read about this on your Linked-in and just had my jaw dropping. First of all, I think we all know you aren't the kidnapping type. Secondly, what I've learned from the news is that crazy murderous kidnappers can avoid the police --but if a normal person so much as takes their injured child to the ER they will face scrutiny. Perhaps if you build a tent-city in your backyard and make sure to place rotting cabbage everywhere so there is an unexplained stench coming from your residence the cops will leave you alone.

-Becca (from UPMC--at least until Dec. 30 then I will be Becca- Unemployed)

OOTHECA said...

Todd -- I read about your unfortunate situation. Clearly, laws need to be changed, as this kind of poisoning could be done to anyone by anybody in the reverse-forensics sense. At least the Boys in Blue should have their booty processed in a timely manner. After all, if there was any hanky panky, wouldn't they want to get to it right away? I hope this does not disrupt your work and your life too much.

Then again, it's good for the economy! You'll likely need to go out and get a new laptop...

todd said...

Belated update:
After 6 weeks, they did return everything to me.

Even though they knew pretty early in their search of our house that I wasn't really a suspect, they had to be diligent and check my hard drives. They did understand what a proxy was, I do have to give them credit for that.