A Russian appeals court has reversed a decision under which the website for the privacy-focused organization The Tor Project was blocked, according to Roskomsvoboda, a digital rights nonprofit in the country. Following that, the site should be unblocked, Roskomsvoboda argues in a blog post published Thursday, which would potentially be notable in a country that has increasingly cracked down on independent and outside news amid its invasion of Ukraine.
The move does not necessarily mean it will be any easier to use the Tor anonymity network itself from Russia. Russia has a history of blocking access to the network, and the court has directed for a new trial to take place. But if the website does eventually become more readily available in Russia, more people might be able to access information and resources on how to stay anonymous online.
“If this decision is cancelled, there will be no formal grounds for continuing the blocking and Tor will have to be removed from the registry of Roskomnadzor,” a representative of Roskomsvoboda told Motherboard in an online chat, referring to the Russian government censorship agency.
“The decision (main requirement) is canceled in part with the direction of the case for a new trial,” the result published on the Saratov regional court’s website reads in Russian.
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The Tor Project website was blocked in a ruling in December 2017 at the Saratov court. Since then, Roskomsvoboda has raised issues with the ruling.
The first was that in the 2017 case the court did not summon the Tor Project itself.
“That is an absolute basis for setting the decision aside, since the decision to block the site affected the rights and obligations of its owner,” Ekaterina Abashina, the media lawyer of Roskomsvoboda, said in the blog post.
The second point was that Russian law does not contain any general ban on the spreading of information related to anonymizing technology, Roskomsvoboda writes.
Abashina said in the blog post that the court set the case for a new trial, this time with The Tor Project as part of the proceedings.
An update to the blog post says that the new trial is set for May 26.
“The decision to overturn the block against our website
is incredible news for digital rights and the freedom to use Tor in Russia.
This important outcome would not be possible without Roskomsvoboda's pro bono support, but the fight is not over,” the Tor Project told Motherboard in a statement. “We need those who can to donate to Roskomsvoboda so they can continue their legal work, and we need others to run Tor bridges so that all Russian users can circumvent ongoing censorship against Tor.”
In March, Twitter launched a Tor onion service, meaning that Russian users should be able to use the Tor anonymity network to reach the site.
Update: This piece has been updated to include a statement from Roskomsvoboda and to replace an earlier statement from the Tor Project with a more recent one.