Library Freedom Project

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Library Freedom Project
Formation2015; 8 years ago (2015)
Coordinates43°38′57″N 72°18′37″W / 43.64917°N 72.31028°W / 43.64917; -72.31028Coordinates: 43°38′57″N 72°18′37″W / 43.64917°N 72.31028°W / 43.64917; -72.31028
Key people
Alison Macrina
AffiliationsTor Project

The Library Freedom Project teaches librarians about surveillance threats, privacy rights, and digital tools to thwart surveillance.[1] In 2015 the Project began an endeavour to place relays and, particularly, exit nodes of the Tor anonymity network in public libraries.[2][3]

Tor Exit Relay Project[edit]

Its pilot project[4] enabled the Kilton Public Library in Lebanon, New Hampshire to become in July 2015 the first library in the United States to host Tor, running a middle relay on its excess bandwidth. This service was put on hold in early September, however, when the library was visited by the local police department after they had received a "heads up" e-mail from Department of Homeland Security highlighting the criminal uses of the Tor network (and which falsely claimed that this was the network's primary usage),[5] whereupon the library began reconsidering the deployment from a public relations perspective.[6][7][8]

After an outpouring of support from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Massachusetts and New Hampshire affiliates of the ACLU, the Tor Project itself, an editorial in the local paper Valley News strongly in favor of the pilot project,[9] and virtually unanimous public testimony, the library board of trustees decided on 15 September 2015 to renew the anonymity service, letting stand its previous unanimous vote to establish the middle relay.[10][11] A dozen libraries and their supporters nationwide expressed interest hosting their own nodes after the DHS involvement became public (an example of the Streisand effect),[12][13] and U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif) released a letter on 10 December 2015, in which she asked the DHS to clarify its procedures, stating that “While the Kilton Public Library’s board ultimately voted to restore their Tor relay, I am no less disturbed by the possibility that DHS employers are pressuring or persuading public and private entities to discontinue or degrade services that protect the privacy and anonymity of U.S. citizens.”[14][15][16]

In March 2016, New Hampshire state representative Keith Ammon introduced a bill[17] allowing public libraries to run privacy software such as Tor which specifically referenced Tor itself. The bill was crafted with extensive input from Library Freedom director Alison Macrina, and was the direct result of the Kilton Public Library imbroglio.[18] The bill was passed by the House 268-62.[19]

Also in March 2016, the first Tor middle relay at a library in Canada was established, at the University of Western Ontario.[20] Given that the running of a Tor exit node is an unsettled area of Canadian law,[21] and that institutions are more capable than individuals to cope with legal pressures, Alison Macrina has opined that in some ways she would like to see intelligence agencies and law enforcement attempt to intervene in the event that an exit node were established.[22]

Also in March 2016, the Library Freedom Project was awarded the Free Software Foundation's 2015 Free Software Award for Projects of Social Benefit at MIT.[23]

As of 26 June 2016, the Kilton Library is the only library in the U.S. running a Tor exit node.[24] However, in August of that same year, Kilton Library's IT Manager, Chuck McAndrew, said they still hoped other libraries would run their own, adding, "We always planned on our library simply being the pilot for a larger nationwide program. Like everything, this will take time. We continue to talk to other libraries, and the Library Freedom Project is actively working with a number of libraries that have an interest in participating."[25]


The director of the Library Freedom Project, Alison Macrina, at unBound, the technology lab and maker space of the Meridian Library District in Idaho, shortly after giving a privacy workshop in January 2016. The logos are those of assorted privacy enhancing technologies, institutions and advocacy groups such as the Tor project, the Electronic Freedom Foundation, Privacy Badger and Noisebridge

Working with ACLU affiliates across the United States, the Library Freedom Project provides workshops to educate librarians about "some of the major surveillance programs and authorizations, including the USA PATRIOT Act, section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, PRISM, XKEYSCORE, and more, connecting the NSA’s dragnet with FBI and local police surveillance".[26] They also discuss current and developing privacy law on both the federal and state levels, in addition to advising librarians how to handle issues like gag orders and National Security Letters. Other topics covered include Privacy Enhancing Technology (PET) that might help library patrons browse anonymously or evade online tracking.

Furthermore, the project conducts training classes for library patrons themselves which focus on on-line security and privacy. The classes can be adjusted to accommodate any level of user, from beginner to advanced, and various security needs.[27] Given that library patrons, including but not limited to domestic violence survivors, political activists, whistle blowers, journalists, and LGBT teens or adults in many communities, face various threat models, the gestalt of digital security is not a matter of one-size-fits-all. In this regard Alison Macrina has remarked at a library conference that " “Digital security isn’t about which tools you use; rather, it’s about understanding the threats you face and how you can counter those threats. To become more secure, you must determine what you need to protect, and whom you need to protect it from. Threats can change depending on where you’re located, what you’re doing, and whom you’re working with.”[28]

The Library Freedom Project is a member of the network, an organization of nonprofits which specializes in the general establishment of exit nodes via workshops and donations.[29]

Library Freedom Institute[edit]

Beginning in 2018, Library Freedom Project began offering the Library Freedom Institute as a joint partnership with New York University. The institute is "a free, privacy-focused... program for librarians to teach them the skills necessary to thrive as Privacy Advocates; from educating community members to influencing public policy."[30] The format of the Institute has changed slightly with each cohort, but lasts four to six months and features lecturers and discussions in the areas of technology, community building, media, activism, and education. Participants create capstone projects at the end of the course. Since its inception, the Library Freedom Institute has been supported by grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

As of July 2020, there have been four cohorts of Library Freedom Institute with over 100 graduates from the program.


In January 2015 the Library Freedom Project received $244,700[31] in grant funding from the Knight Foundation,[32] and in January 2016 $50,000 from the Rose Foundation's Consumer Privacy Rights Fund[33] (the fiscal sponsor of that grant being the Miami Foundation).[34]

In August 2017 the Library Freedom Project was awarded a $249,504 grant from the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program to facilitate the use of practical privacy tools in libraries using a "training the trainers" model. 40 geographically dispersed Privacy Advocates are expected to be trained in a six month course.[35] New York University (NYU) and the Library Freedom Project have since created a formal collaborative program funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services called Library Freedom Institute; its inaugural course began in June 2018.[36]


  1. ^ Library Freedom Project. "Our Work". Library Freedom Project.
  2. ^ "Tor Exit Nodes in Libraries - Pilot (phase one) | The Tor Blog". Retrieved 2015-09-16.
  3. ^ "Tor Project Pilots Exit Nodes In Libraries - Slashdot". 2015-07-31. Retrieved 2015-09-16.
  4. ^ "Lebanon library at center of internet privacy debate in shutting off its Tor server". Concord Monitor. 2015-09-11. Archived from the original on 2015-09-30. Retrieved 2015-09-16.
  5. ^ "Letter to Kilton Library, signed by Library Freedom Project, ACLU, EFF, and significant others" (PDF). Library Freedom Project. 2015-09-02. Retrieved 2016-01-15.
  6. ^ Angwin, Julia (2015-09-10). "First Library to Support Tor Anonymous Internet Browsing Effort Stops After DHS Email". ProPublica. Retrieved 2015-09-16.
  7. ^ "Support Tor and Intellectual Freedom in Libraries | EFF Action Center". Retrieved 2015-09-16.
  8. ^ "First Library To Support Anonymous Internet Browsing Halts Project After DHS Email - Slashdot". 2015-09-11. Retrieved 2015-09-16.
  9. ^ "Editorial: Privacy Concerns and the Kilton Library | Valley News". Archived from the original on 2015-09-21. Retrieved 2015-09-16.
  10. ^ Glaser, April (2015-09-11). "How New Hampshire's Lebanon Libraries fought back against DHS fearmongering about Tor". Retrieved 2015-09-16.
  11. ^ "Despite Law Enforcement Concerns, Lebanon Board Will Reactivate Privacy Network Tor at Kilton Library | Valley News". 2015-06-15. Archived from the original on 2015-09-18. Retrieved 2015-09-16.
  12. ^ "Small town library stands up to government scare tactic aimed at digital privacy tool". Radio Free. 2015-09-16. Retrieved 2015-09-21.
  13. ^ "SCREW YOU, FEDS! Dozen or more US libraries line up to run Tor exit nodes". Retrieved 2015-09-21.
  14. ^ "Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren". Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren.
  15. ^ "Rep. Zoe Lofgren wants to know if DHS is sabotaging plans for Tor exit relays". The Daily Dot. 11 December 2015.
  16. ^ "Congresswoman Asks Feds Why They Pressured a Library to Disable Its Tor Node". 12 December 2015.
  17. ^ "The General Court of New Hampshire | 404".
  18. ^ O'Neill, Patrick (2016-03-10). "New Hampshire bill allows for libraries' usage of encryption and privacy software". The Daily Dot. Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  19. ^ "New Hampshire HB1508 - 2016 - Regular Session".
  20. ^ "Library in FIMS joins global network fighting back against digital surveillance, censorship, and the obstruction of information". FIMS News. 2016-03-16. Retrieved 2016-03-16.
  21. ^ Pearson, Jordan (2016-09-25). "Can You Be Arrested for Running a Tor Exit Node In Canada?". Motherboard. Retrieved 2016-03-16.
  22. ^ Pearson, Jordan (2016-03-16). "Canadian Librarians Must Be Ready to Fight the Feds on Running a Tor Node". Motherboard. Retrieved 2016-03-16.
  23. ^ "Library Freedom Project and Werner Koch are 2015 Free Software Awards winners". Free Software Foundation. March 19, 2016. Archived from the original on March 20, 2016. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  24. ^ "Browse free or die? New Hampshire library is at privacy fore". Associated Press. AP. 2016-06-26. Retrieved 2016-06-26.
  25. ^ "Tor crusader discuss privacy, freedom with ExpressVPN". Home of internet privacy. 2016-08-04. Retrieved 2017-08-31.
  26. ^ "Workshops – Library Freedom Project". Retrieved 2015-11-10.
  27. ^ "Community classes – Library Freedom Project". Retrieved 2015-11-10.
  28. ^ Enis, Matt (2016-03-31). "Library Freedom Project, NYCLU Discuss Privacy and Online Security". Library Journal. Retrieved 2016-05-03.
  29. ^ Steele, Sharon. "Tor at the Heart:".
  30. ^ "Library Freedom Institute – Library Freedom". Retrieved 2020-07-07.
  31. ^ "The heroes who saved the Internet in 2015 - The Daily Dot". The Daily Dot. 31 December 2015.
  32. ^ "The Library Freedom Project". Knight Foundation. Retrieved 2015-09-16.
  33. ^ "LFP wins Rose Foundation funding – Library Freedom Project".
  34. ^ "Current Grantees - Rose Foundation".
  35. ^ "RE-95-17-0076-17". Institute of Museum and Library Services. 2017-08-31. Retrieved 2017-08-31.
  36. ^ Macrina, Alison (2017-12-22). "New Program Turns Librarians into Privacy Advocates". The Tor Project. Retrieved 2018-01-25.

External links[edit]