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You are here: Home Blogs Community From pro-democracy activists to minorities: Why people use Tor and encrypted chats

From pro-democracy activists to minorities: Why people use Tor and encrypted chats

by Miriam Bastian Contributions Published on Jul 27, 2023 11:15 AM
Read the stories of people who protect their privacy with free software, why they choose freedom and privacy, and why we must protect our freedoms.

Here's your chance to discover the stories of people who protect their privacy with free software. We dug deep to reveal some of their stories, which is not easy because many people who care deeply about privacy choose to stay anonymous. Some of the stories are taken from research the Tor Project conducted to show who is using their browser and why. For that reason, they are reported here with special thanks to Tor. But the biggest thanks goes to all the people who dare to tell their stories in the first place.

With our article "We have nothing to hide, only everything to protect," we started a series of posts on privacy. And in the previous installment, we reported ongoing legislation that threatens end-to-end encryption and called you to take action. This third installment will introduce you to people who live in countries that disregard their rights, but who nevertheless fight for their rights by using free software to protect their privacy. We all deserve privacy, and, as you will see, it is vital for people living in a country that lacks legal certainty.

An infographic to demonstrate how encryption works.

Meet people who use free software that protect privacy

One of the people we found who use privacy-protecting free software is Alyssa Moore, who uses Tor to protect her identity. She is a political activist who was harassed by her government for speaking up. Moore affirms, "Tor allowed me freedom to publish my message to the world without being personally persecuted for it."

Free software that respects its users' privacy helps people in societies without legal certainty in their fight for democracy. "Tor Browser/Orbot/Tails helped me so much during the 2019-2020 Hong Kong protests [...]. It allowed me to read, write, and organize freely during the protests," says Chao Li, a pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong. In Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China, the Tor network helps people access censored websites like Wikipedia. Xiu Wang for example can't stand it that China is restricting its inhabitants to freely access Wikipedia and states, "Sometimes I use Tor to [get] across the [Great Firewall]. Tor has provided me with a lot of help."

Tor conceals the source and destination of messages with IP address obfuscation and encryption. Encryption is a key element of privacy. Members of the queer community in Egypt, for example, are increasingly resorting to encrypted chats in order to keep their communication hidden from the prying eyes of the police. Many of them are presented with fake dating profiles created by the police in an effort to find people in the LGBTQ+ community and charge them with "debauchery." Understandably enough, none of them wanted to publicly talk about their experiences in detail.

You might be reading these stories living in a democratic country, where citizens enjoy legal certainty. You might therefore deem oppression as something that only happens far away and ask yourself what does this have to do with me? Well, history shows that even the best democracies have areas in which they struggle to exercise equal treatment and fail to guarantee human rights for everyone who lives within them. Even if you trust your government to never fail, you should protect your privacy. In our next and last installment of this series you will meet people who explain the reasons for this. Until then, we invite you to tell your own story.

Tell your own story

Now it's your turn. Let us and the world know why you use free software to protect your privacy. Tell your story on social media, starting your statement with "I use #freesoftware to protect my #privacy because [...]"

Editorial note: Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the people whose stories are told in this article.

Illustration Copyright © 2014, Johannes Landin. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported International license.

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