The routing service Tor is mostly known as a way to make life difficult for the NSA, but a new piece in Beta Boston shines a light on the role the tool has been playing in the fight against domestic violence. Shelters like Transition House in Boston are using Tor and tools like it to help women use basic web services without leaving a digital trail for abusers to pick up on. As abuse cases increasingly involve elements of cyberstalking, that kind of anonymity has become increasingly important in fighting back.
As web services gain access to more and more of our lives, digital stalking has grown more and more dangerous. The piece describes one abuser who insisted on access to his girlfriend's website passwords and cell phone, eventually demanding constant notifications whenever she left work or visited a new place. Eventually, he used location data to her phone to follow her to a courthouse in a different town, where she was seeking legal help. With modern geofencing and location tags, that kind of control is much easier to demand, and much harder to escape once it's in place. Circumvention tools like Tor and Tails end up as one of the only options. As one Tor representative put it, "abuses with technology feel like you’re carrying the abuser in your pocket. It’s hard to turn off."