FBI Harassing Core Tor Developer, Demanding She Meet With Them, But Refusing To Explain Why
from the not-cool-fbi dept
Isis Agora Lovecruft is a lead software developer for Tor and has worked on Tor for many years, as well as on a variety of other security and encryption products, including Open Whisper Systems and the LEAP Encryption Access Project. And, apparently, the FBI would really like to talk to her, but won’t tell her (or her lawyer) exactly why. It’s really worth reading her whole post, which starts with an FBI agent showing up at her parents home and leaving a card, and then later phoning her mother’s cell phone while she was at work a few days later. Lovecruft had a lawyer reach out to the FBI agent in question, which resulted in an odd discussion:
Word got to my lawyer in the US, who decided to call FBI Special Agent Mark Burnett, on that Friday, saying that he represented me and my family. Burnett said the FBI simply wanted to ask me some questions. My lawyer responded by stating that, as my invoked representation, all questions should be directed to him rather than to me or my family. The agent agreed, paused while some muffled male voices were heard in the background, and asked to call back in five minutes.
Five minutes later, Burnett called back and said, “I don’t believe you actually represent her.” Burnett stated additionally that a phone call from me might suffice, but that the FBI preferred to meet with me in person. After a pause he said, “But… if we happen to run into her on the street, we’re gonna be asking her some questions without you present.”
Complicating matters was the fact that Lovecruft was deep into the process of moving permanently to Germany, and actually had just been visiting her family in the US. She worried about whether or not she’d even be able to leave, though eventually flew back to Europe without incident. She notes that once back in Germany, she was focused on getting all the documentation in order to get her official residence visa in Germany when the FBI again came looking for her:
The day before my appointment, I spoke with
my lawyer. He had received another call, this time from a FBI Special Agent
Kelvin Porter in Atlanta.
Agent: Hello, this is Special Agent Kelvin Porter at the FBI field
offices in Atlanta. I’m calling concerning your client.
Lawyer: Yes. Why are you trying to contact her?
Agent: Well… as before… we would strongly prefer to meet her in person. We
have teams in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and
Atlanta keeping an eye out for her.
Lawyer: Your colleague mentioned last time that you would accept a phone call?
Agent: We would strongly prefer to meet her in person. We… uh… have some
documents we’d like her opinion on.
Lawyer: Umm…? What documents?
Agent: Anyway, if she’s available to meet with us, that would be great, thanks.
It didn’t exactly help with the stress of applying for a residence visa to
know that there were teams in five cities across America keeping an eye out
for me. However, I’m glad to say that, the next day, my residence visa was
approved. Eight hours afterwards, my laywer received a voicemail saying:
Agent: Hello this is Special Agent Kelvin Porter, we spoke two days ago
regarding your client. Umm… well… so the situation with the
documents… it’s umm… it’s all fixed. I mean, we would of course
still be happy to meet with your client if she’s willing, but the
problem has… uh… yeah… been fixed. And uh… yeah. Just let us know
if she wants to set up a meeting.
So, that seemed to settle things for the time being — though still made her nervous. That last conversation happened in January. But it appears that last week, the FBI came knocking again, and apparently said they want to serve her with a subpoena.
The FBI has contacted my lawyer again. This time, they said, “She should meet with one of our agents in San Francisco to talk. Otherwise, are you the point of contact for serving a subpoena? She’s not the target of investigation, but, uh… we uh… need her to clear up her involvement or… uh… potential involvement in a matter.”
She’s (reasonably) worried that whatever the FBI is planning to ask her about or serve her with comes with a gag order and she won’t be able to speak about it. She also notes that she’s got a personal warrant canary, which might be worth watching for obvious reasons.
But, honestly, the part that struck me as most interesting about all of this is the incredible amount of stress that this obviously caused for her. It doesn’t matter if the FBI says she’s “not a target,” having the FBI come looking for you can really shake you up. Especially when they won’t provide any details:
I didn’t talk to anyone who wasn’t already in regular contact with me, fearing I might endanger them — some thug might show up at their mom’s door or make some threats to their lawyers — and I didn’t want to risk harming people I care about. It hurt to not tell my friends what was happening. I felt gagged and frightened. I wanted to play chess in the park. I wanted to learn duets on the piano. I wanted to ride bicycles through the ancient groves in the park in the endless Californian sunshine. I wanted to bring homemade vegan gluten-free brownies and stickers from collectives in France to my friends at the EFF. To be selfish, I wanted to read the number theory papers I’d just downloaded and play with a new pairing-based cryptography library I’d just been given the source to, but I couldn’t do those things either, simply because I was too stressed out to think straight.
I got absolutely no work done.
That, right there, is a clear description of the chilling effects that this kind of thing can cause. And that’s a shame. As she later notes, her paychecks for working on Tor come from the US government. She’s not a spy or a criminal. She’s working on software that makes everyone safer. And no matter what the reason for the FBI’s interest, it’s ridiculous that someone should have to go through this kind of process.