Tor Developer, Isis Lovecruft Accuses the FBI of Harassment

Isis Agora Lovecruft, who is a lead software developer for Tor has been characterised by secretive threats at the hands of US law enforcement from the first time she met them six months ago. Apparently, the FBI would really like to talk to her, but won’t tell her (or her lawyer) exactly why. Now, Lovecruft has published a blog post accusing the FBI of harassment for the past six months.

The ordeal started in November last year when Lovecruft and her family were on vacation, and when an FBI agent Mark Burnett dropped by her house. He left his card with a message to call him. He then called on Lovecruft mother’s cell phone while she was at work a few days later.

As weeks passed, Lovecruft was considering the decision of whether to call or not call the agent, knowing she had done nothing wrong. She was also aware of the fact that the FBI was very interested in anything that is Tor-related.

Lovecruft quickly involved a lawyer, who wrote in the post on her website: “Burnett said the FBI simply wanted to ask me some questions.” When speaking directly to the hired legal counsel, the FBI agent reportedly said: “If we happen to run into her on the street, we’re gonna’ be asking her some questions without you present.”

She wrote, “My lawyer and I discussed what the FBI could possibly want. Theories ranged from attempted entrapment, to the recent and completely unethical Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) attacks on the live Tor network, to a Grand Jury subpoena for someone else, to some shady request for a backdoor in some software I contribute to.”

It was later found that in the recent months the FBI paid the Carnegie Mellon University to hack the Tor network, and had been keeping information about the Tor Browser exploits under wraps from the public eye.

Lovecruft was in the midst of moving to Germany and the stress of dealing with the FBI harassment had effectively ended her ability to work. She then asked her lawyer to call the agent and find out what was the whole issue all about.

When Lovecruft’s agent contacted the FBI, they informed her lawyer that they only wanted to ask her a few questions. To which her lawyer responded that all questions should be directed to him rather than Lovecruft or her family. While the agent agreed to this, he paused for a while and asked the agent 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.”

After that, Lovecruft says she spent a large amount of time thinking about what the FBI wanted from her. She was worried whether or not she would be able to leave the country, or if she could ever come back or ever see her family if she leaves. All these kinds of situations arise when the government is stalking you without any reason.

Finally, Lovecruft gathered the courage and left the country to live in Germany without any incident. However, the situation did not calm down after she left. Two months later, her lawyer received voice mails from another FBI agent.

The voicemail read: “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.”

While it appeared that for the time being, things had settled down, the FBI came knocking again, and apparently they told Lovecruft’s lawyer that they wanted to serve her with a subpoena.

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.”

A subpoena would force her to meet with the FBI under a penalty of failure. Going by the FBI’s secret manner in which they declined to provide information to her lawyer, and even told her lawyer that they would question her without him present if they can. Worried whatever the FBI is planning to ask Lovecruft about or serve her with subpoena that comes with a gag order that wouldn’t allow her to speak about it, she decided to make all her past dealings public.

In the blog post, Lovecruft wrote: “Is this really how the United States has decided to treat American tech workers? Am I just the forerunner in a larger campaign by the FBI to personally go after developers of encryption software which annoys them?”

In a post on Twitter dated May 4, the Tor Project said: “We support our colleague Isis.” However, the organisation did not respond to a request for additional comment. As noted on the Tor Project’s website, this is not the first time a member has been ‘harassed’ by the FBI.

Lovecruft’s blog post serves as a reminder to the public of the FBI’s secret fight against anything Tor-related, even its developers. She says she found it disturbing that the FBI would not accept her legal representation and would not provide her with any details, especially if she was not the target of an investigation.

In response to the allegations, an FBI spokesperson told IBTimes UK: “The FBI, as a general policy, does not confirm nor deny investigations, nor comment on investigative activity unless it’s a matter of public record (charges associated with an arrest, for example). If someone is alleging harassment of any kind that should be brought to the attention of the government, though it’s unclear what specific activity is even being characterised as harassment.”