The neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer finally crossed a line following the killing of a civil rights activist at a white supremacist rally it helped organise in Charlottesville, Virginia: a blogpost attacking victim Heather Heyer lead to it being chased from the web, first by technology companies who steadily refused to provide service, then by hackers who tried to crash the site.
Eventually, it sought refuge in the so-called dark web, launching a special type of site called a Tor hidden service, impervious to conventional internet censorship. In doing so it shone a spotlight, yet again, on a controversial technology that provides protection for dissidents in oppressive regimes at the same time as harbouring Nazis, illicit marketplaces and child abuse rings.
The developer of the protocol that allows sites to exist hidden within the dark web and the encrypted browser used to connect to them and normal websites in a protected fashion, the Tor Project, spoke out shortly after the Daily Stormer created its hidden service:
But, unlike previous groups the site had turned to for protection, Tor argued the same rights that protect the good protect the Daily Stormer too. “We can’t build free and open source tools that protect journalists, human rights activists, and ordinary people around the world if we also control who uses those tools,” it said.
“Tor is designed to defend human rights and privacy by preventing anyone from censoring things, even us.” The project is unable to deny service to the Daily Stormer even if it wanted to.