The Tor Browser Afforded CDA Immunity For Dark Web Transactions [telecom]

by Stephanie J. Kapinos

The District of Utah ruled in late May that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. §230 ("CDA" shields The Tor Project, Inc. ("Tor"), the organization responsible for maintaining the Tor Browser, from claims for strict product liability, negligence, abnormally dangerous activity, and civil conspiracy.

The claims were asserted against Tor following an incident where a minor died after taking illegal narcotics purchased from a site on the "dark web" on the Tor Network. (Seaver v. Estate of Cazes, No. 18-00712 (D. Utah May 20, 2019)). The parents of the child sued, among others, Tor as the service provider through which the teenager was able to order the drug on the dark web. Tor argued that the claims against it should be barred by CDA immunity and the district court agreed.

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Bill Horne
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I am no lawyer, but to me this is a tricky issue. On the one hand, it would be impossible--and undesirable--for communications carriers to track content and usage of their lines in most situations. This would apply to many public businesses--could a restaurant owner be held responsible if a criminal act was planned by its patrons?

However, on the other hand, if the host business knows very well that illegal activities are going on--and acts to facilitate secrecy and help those activities, the situation may be different.

In the case described above, the host carrier went to the trouble to mask originating identification, which we know is a problem today.

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