Tor Project announces new policies in wake of sexual assault scandal

Nearly two months ago, the Tor Project promised a full investigation into the sexual assault allegations that led to the resignation of one of its lead developers, Jacob Appelbaum. That investigation is now complete, Tor’s executive director Shari Steele announced today, and the Tor Project is implementing new policies and procedures to prevent future incidents.

Although rumors about Appelbaum’s behavior swirled in infosec communities for years, he was also a prominent figure at Tor and a journalist who worked on the WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden disclosures. Appelbaum has remained mostly silent since descriptions of assaults from anonymous and named victims began to appear online in early June. In a statement, he denied the allegations, calling them “entirely false.”

Since Tor announced its investigation into the allegations, several additional victims have come forward, Steele said. She said the inquiry, which was led by a professional investigator, also uncovered “inappropriate behavior” from two other individuals involved with the Tor Project. The individuals, who went unnamed in Steele’s statement, are no longer involved with the organization.

“Many people inside and outside the Tor Project have reported incidents of being humiliated, intimidated, bullied and frightened by Jacob, and several experienced unwanted sexually aggressive behavior from him. Some of those incidents have been shared publicly, and some have not,” Steele wrote.

The Tor Project, which replaced its entire board of directors in the wake of the allegations, will now institute anti-harassment and conflict-of-interest policies, and create a structure for reporting and addressing harassment complaints. The policies were approved by Tor’s new board of directors, which includes University of Pennsylvania associate professor Matt Blaze and Electronic Frontier Foundation executive director Cindy Cohn, and will be rolled out this week.

Tor relies on its employees as well as a broad community of volunteers to maintain its free anonymity network, and changes will be coming to the broader Tor community as well. The community will develop guidelines for its members, including a code of conduct. The new guidelines will be finalized by the group’s upcoming developer meeting in September, according to Steele.

“I believe these new policies and practices will make the Tor Project and the Tor community significantly healthier and stronger,” Steele said, adding, “I want to thank all the people who broke the silence around Jacob’s behavior. It is because of you that this issue has now been addressed. I am grateful you spoke up, and I acknowledge and appreciate your courage.”