Tor blocked in Russia

In December 2021, the website, Tor network public proxy servers (nodes), and some bridges (non-public relays to the Tor network) were blocked in Russia
What is Tor and what it is used for
Tor is a global decentralized network of thousands of servers that encrypt your web traffic. When your traffic is routed through the Tor network, no one monitoring your connection can see who you are, where you came from, or what web-sites you visit.

Whereas Tor provides strong online privacy, it is a key tool for journalists, human rights defenders, and vulnerable groups to do their jobs and protect themselves online. Between 2.5 and 8 million people use Tor every day for secure and private browsing.

Tor is supported by the Tor Project, a non-profit organization the mission of which is to advance human rights and freedoms by creating and deploying free and open source anonymity and privacy technologies, supporting their unrestricted availability and use, and furthering their scientific and popular understanding.
Why Tor is blocked
The formal reason: the Court Decision of 2017 (!)on blocking Tor due to the possibility of “the download [of] an anonymizer browser program for subsequent visits to web-sites that host materials included in the Federal List of extremist Materials”

The real reason: the desire of the state to control and censor information consumed by Internet users in Russia. This policy goes in several directions:

  • blocking web-sites that appeared back in 2012;
  • making it difficult for Tor, VPN and other services that give access to prohibited information;
  • pressure on social networks and mass services to censor information (Youtube, Twitter, VK);
  • Pressure on the media (recognition as foreign agents and scrubbing unwanted information from the network).

If Tor, VPN and other anonymizers are blocked effectively, the next step is to expect the blocking of "inconvenient" media, both Russian and foreign.
The Roskomsvoboda (Роскомсвобода) team representing the interests of The Tor Project, Inc. and the entire Tor user community in Russia has submitted an appeal and will request an annulment of a judicial decision that led to the blocking of an advanced technology to protect online privacy.

What is the matter?

On December 7, Roskomnadzor sent a notice to The Tor Project, Inc. about removing “banned information found on the Tor Project page”. The decision of the Saratov District Court of 2017 in accordance with Article 15.1 of the Law on Information became the proforma basis.

The court decision does not apply to any specific content. The decision of the Saratov court was based on the prosecutor's office inspection, which found that on the web-site of the Tor project you can download an anonymizer browser and use it to visit banned web-sites that host materials included in the Federal list of extremist materials.

Given that the court found the presence of banned information on the main domain, access to the entire onion router in Russia is limited in all possible ways.

We believe that the decision of the court is unlawful and a subject to discharge due to the following circumstances:

  • The case was heard without the attendance of representatives of the Tor party, which violated their procedural rights and breached of the adversarial proceeding;
  • The decision violates the constitutional right to freely provide, receive and disseminate information and protect privacy;

* * *

“Just as a printing press can be used to print anything from a school textbook to an extremist pamphlet, the Internet stores and provides a wealth of information, some parts of which may be restricted for various, in this case legal, reasons. Blocking information about online filter-bypassing technologies on the grounds that they might inadvertently facilitate access to extremist material is no different than banning the use of printers and photocopiers because they may be used to print such materials”.

ECHR decision, case of Engels v. Russia, para. 30
How Tor was blocked in Russia

The following methods have been used to block Tor:

  • blocking the main Tor website, from which users can download the Tor Browser - a browser to connect to the Tor network;
  • blocking the IP addresses of public Tor nodes and public lists of Tor bridges - relays that are used to connect to the Tor network;
  • blocking Tor traffic using DPI technology and traffic analysis methods.

However, the Tor Project has created many ways to help users to bypass these blockages when they occur. Thus, even if Tor is blocked by one of these methods, you may be able to bypass the block.

We protect Tor pro bono, so your donations are important to us