University administrations around the world,
A healthy conversation about online privacy should never be stifled. Yet we've heard too many stories of students whose efforts to initiate these conversations have faced roadblocks from university administrators fearful of encryption and anonymity software.
But the time has come now to embrace these technologies, not blindly reject them. There is nothing to fear about online privacy and the various tools available to achieve it.
The demonization of technology because of a few bad actors is a dangerous path. Think about it: the classification of a computer as a machine designed for cybercrime, makes no more sense than maligning cell phones because drug dealers use them to make illegal sales. Instead, we should encourage ethical and responsible use of technologies. The best way to do this is through meaningful conversation that explains how technologies function and the myriad ways technology is and can be utilized.
…Today it is used to serve a variety of needs. Journalists use Tor to protect the anonymity of their sources; Internet users in countries where information is censored use Tor to circumvent oppressive firewalls; lawyers use Tor to exchange sensitive information relating to a case; corporations use Tor to protect market secrets; and people use Tor everyday to have conversations about topics they might feel uncomfortable discussing without the protection anonymity provides…
Anonymous speech has a long history in democratic societies, particularly when used by those whose politically contentious views might have put them ill-at-ease amongst their contemporaries (like Mark Twain, Voltaire, and George Orwell—all pen names). The Federalist Papers were written under the collective pen name Publius to protect the identities of the individual authors. In a similar fashion, Tor gives people the opportunity to discuss anything, freely and without fear of being tracked or chastised for their opinions.
There are other free software tools that we consider to be good hygiene for a privacy-conscious user, like GPG email encryption, which is used to keep email communication private from malicious hackers or unconstitutional government surveillance. There is also our HTTPS Everywhere browser extension, designed to encrypt data that travels between a user's computer and a website. These practices are not designed to cloak criminals from the view of law-enforcement. Rather, they are intended to make experiences online as trustworthy as possible, despite the fact that the interactions occur across great distances between people and organizations that may never meet in the physical sense.
Conversations about online privacy and security should be encouraged, and never silenced. The more that students understand how security threats function and the myriad ways they can protect their communications and identity, the less vulnerable they are to cybercrime or unwanted surveillance. Privacy technologies can be introduced as a framework grounded in ethical applications and First Amendment principles.
Please never hesitate to contact the Electronic Frontier Foundation with questions about online privacy or anonymity tools, and more importantly, think twice before ever limiting what students can and cannot discuss openly, especially when it comes to the use of technology. Healthy and open dialogue about how students can, should, and do use existing technologies is far better than forcing secrecy, which may only serve to promote notions of criminality about Internet practices that, if used properly, serve to enhance and protect our basic rights online.
Securely and sincerely,
The Electronic Frontier Foundation