Compliance Management, Privacy

The Tor Project says investigation confirms Appelbaum’s sexual misconduct

Digital privacy nonprofit The Tor Project said Wednesday that its completed investigation of privacy advocate and Tor developer Jason Appelbaum, who resigned from the organization earlier in the year, had uncovered multiple incidents of sexual misconduct.

After allegations that surfaced about Appelbaum's behavior and Tor Executive Director Shari Steele opened the door to anyone with a first person account of an inappropriate incident, the organization hired a professional investigator help the organization “understand the overall factual picture as it emerged,” Steele wrote in a Wednesday blog, noting that by sharing the results of the probe, which clearly included sensitive information, she was trying “to balance my desire for the Tor Project to be transparent and accountable with my desire to respect individual privacy.”

In the weeks since Appelbaum's departure and scope of the allegations widened, The Tor Project and the broader Tor community have bolstered their ability to address unprofessional behavior. The organization has created policies designed to curb harassment and avoid conflicts of interest as well as procedures for filing and revieing complaints. Getting the proper procedures in place “is more difficult for the Tor Project than for other organizations, because the staff of the Tor Project works in partnership with a broader Tor community, many of whom are volunteers or employed by other organizations,” Steele wrote. “It is not a traditional top-down management environment.”

The investigation into the allegations surrounding Appelbaum accelerated the efforts to impose policies and procedures, which Steele has previously said were crucial to making the organization more sustainable.

The Tor Project's profile has risen sharply as digital civil liberties has assumed a higher profile. Steele told earlier in the Spring that one of her biggest challenges was to impose order and structure on the organization. “Tor is a really interesting place to work, they've built a technical critical infrastructure for information freedom but no support infrastructure,” she said at the time. “They were doing important work with no support infrastructure, no organizational policy, or they got them from somewhere else, [so we've had] to keep the whole tower really erect and at the same time shore up the infrastructure.”

A newly elected board that Steele says has “significant governance and executive leadership experience” will serve as “a key source of support for the Tor Project going forward,” wrote Steele, praising the former board for its “bold and selfless decision” to step down.

Appelbaum earlier vehemently denied allegations of sexual misconduct but ultimately refused to be interviewed by the investigator, citing, Tor's Kate Krauss said, security and privacy concerns, which she dismissed. 

"We offered Jacob encrypted video and he didn't like our system; we offered him encrypted voice and he didn't get back to us," Tor's Kate Krauss told "This investigation was about the Titanic of sexual aggression against women, not the position of deck chairs on the boat. Real women who trusted Jacob were hurt by him."

Appelbaum has yet to respond to the findings of The Tor Project's investigation.

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