#CyberFLASH: Can You Be Arrested for Running a Tor Exit Node In Canada?

hackerIn some parts of the world, running a Tor node—a computer that makes up part of the dark web’s backbone—can make you a target for law enforcement. This is because traffic routed through a node could just as easily come from journalists, activists, or drug-slinging criminals, and there’s often no way to trace illegal activity beyond an exit node.

In Canada, however, running a Tor exit node out of your own home is essentially uncharted water, legally speaking. Should Canadian Tor node operators be worried about getting a knock on the door from the police?

“It’s not well understood or well defined,” said David fraser, a lawyer specializing in internet law and partner at law firm McInnes Cooper, told me over the phone. “But if someone were to come to me and say, ‘I want to run an industrial-scale exit node,’ or if a library came to me and said the same thing, among the things I would tell them is that it’s not going to be smooth sailing.”

The problem is that the dark web isn’t just for humanitarians, of course, and child pornography and drugs are trafficked on the Tor network as well. In the US, the FBI has raided the homes of people operating exit nodes—computers through which encrypted, anonymous Tor traffic is finally routed back into the wider web—and the Department of Homeland Security isn’t above bullying libraries into shutting down their own nodes.

Nevertheless, although still a potentially risky proposition, civil rights groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation insist that running a Tor exit node in the US is totally legal.

Kate Kraus, a Tor Project spokesperson, told me that people have been running nodes in Canada for years, and a search on the Tor Project’s compass web service reveals that there are 29 exit nodes currently running in Canada. One of those nodes is operated out of the University of Waterloo by Ian Goldberg, a cryptography researcher and lead developer of the OTR protocol for encrypted messaging.

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