In a blog post published Wednesday, Tor Project executive director Shari Steele announced the conclusion of an internal investigation into accusations of sexual misconduct leveled one of its former star developers, Jacob Appelbaum.
Steele says the investigation has revealed some pretty disturbing stuff. She wrote (emphasis ours):
“The investigation is now complete. 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 behaviour from him. Some of those incidents have been shared publicly, and some have not. The investigation also identified two additional people as having engaged in inappropriate conduct, and they are no longer involved with the Tor Project.”
The accusations first surfaced about seven weeks ago, in early June, when the Tor Project quietly announced that Appelbaum had left the organisation. Appelbaum is a rock-star activist hacker who has worked with WikiLeaks and the Edward Snowden documents.
Shortly after that news of Appelbaum’s departure, serious accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced against him, reported Mic’s Jack Smith IV.
Appelbaum publicly and vehemently denied all of the allegations, calling the situation “a calculated and targeted attack” to “spread vicious and spurious allegations against me.”
The Tor Project is on a mission to protect privacy on the Internet and, true to its nature, these allegations were revealed on an anonymous website where people alleging to be victims told stories that ranged from uninvited touching and kissing to using the word “rape,” reported Wired’s Andy Greenberg.
At the time, Tor Project executive director Shari Steele said that, “We do not know exactly what happened here. We don’t have all the facts,” and promised to investigate. She also said, “these types of allegations were not entirely new to everybody at Tor; they were consistent with rumours some of us had been hearing for some time.”
In her newest post announcing the results of the investigation, Steele said that the Tor Project has instituted new policies of behaviour, elected a new slate of leaders and she thanked “all the people who broke the silence around Jacob’s behaviour. 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.”
But allegations, no matter how serious, are just that, and people have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Steele told Business Insider, “While the Tor Project will not be bringing criminal charges as a result of our investigation, we cannot speak for the individuals involved.”
Appelbaum’s representative could not be reached for comment on Steele’s newest blog post, but here is his full denial when the news of the accusations first surfaced.
Berlin, June 6, 2016
In the past few days, a calculated and targeted attack has been launched to spread vicious and spurious allegations against me. Given the way these accusations have been handled, I had little choice but to resign from my position as an advocate at the Tor Project and devote my full attention to completing my doctoral work on cryptography at the Technical University of Eindhoven.
Vague rumours and smear campaigns against me are nothing new. As a longtime public advocate for free speech and a secure internet, there have been plenty of attempts to undermine my work over the years.
Now, however, these unsubstantiated and unfounded attacks have become so aggressive that I feel it’s necessary to set the record straight. Not only have I been the target of a fake website in my name that has falsely accused me of serious crimes, but I have also received death threats (including a Twitter handle entitled ‘TimeToDieJake’).
I think it’s extremely damaging to the community that these character-assassination tactics are being deployed, especially given their ugly history of being used against fellow members of the LGBT community. It pains me to watch the community to which I’ve dedicated so much of my life engage in such self-destructive behaviour. Nonetheless, I am prepared to use legal channels, if necessary, to defend my reputation from these libelous accusations.
I want to be clear: the accusations of criminal sexual misconduct against me are entirely false.
Inevitably, there may have been moments in my professional or private life when I may have inadvertently hurt or offended others’ feelings. Whenever I was aware of these instances, I have, and will continue to, apologise to the friends and colleagues in question and to continually learn how to be a better person. Though the damage to my reputation caused by these allegations alone is impossible to undo, I nonetheless take the concerns of the Tor community seriously. To dispel any further rumours, to the best of my knowledge, the Tor network is not ‘compromised.’
I’ve dedicated my life as a journalist, activist, and longtime member of the Tor Project to advocating for the transparency of public processes and to speaking out about the necessity of privacy, security, and anonymity. These are ideals that I will continue to uphold, despite the vicious campaign that is currently being waged against me.
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