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Austrian Tor exit relay operator guilty of ferrying child porn

All care but no responsibility defence didn't fly

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An Austrian man has been found guilty after child sex abuse material transited his Tor exit relay.

IT administrator William Weber was charged in November last year after state police raided his home confiscating 20 computers, gaming consoles and devices after one of his seven global Tor exit relays funneled the illicit material.

On 1 July, Weber was found guilty by a criminal court, given three years' probation and told he'll pay an expected €30,000 in court and legal costs.

Tor exit relays are critical because they serve as stepping stones where user traffic could leave the popular proxy network and enter the public web. That arrangement leaves operators of the relays in a dangerous place because they could be liable for any malicious traffic leaving Tor.

Weber said he lacked sufficient money and motivation to appeal the case.

"... I simply can't afford it anymore, donations covered a lot of lawyer fees but I had to use my entire money on this case as well [and] I’m now bankrupt and the [court] costs does not help with it either," Weber said.

Prosecutors were in possession of chat logs where Weber allegedly promoted the use of Tor for a host of uses including child pornography -- a statement he argued was taken out of context and was made in a conversation with security blogger Brian Krebs about a botnet gang.

Users in various forums have reacted angrily to the ruling, with many arguments saying it was tantamount to blaming the postal service for mailing illicit material or making ISPs accountable for piracy over their networks (incidentally a move currently being considered by Australia's conservative Federal Government).

Online rights campaigner Moritz Bartl promoted the operating of exit relays through torsevers.net and was one voice among the rabble suggesting Weber could find success on appeal.

"We strongly believe that it can be easily challenged," Bartl said.

"While certainly shocking, lower court rulings should not be taken too seriously, and this won't necessarily mean that all Tor relays in Austria are now automatically illegal."

Bartl was seeking legal assistance for Weber and urged any exit relay operator in hot water to contact torservers.

He would reserve further judgement on the Weber case until he had properly consulted with legal eagles.

The privacy advocate known as MacLemon claimed the ruling contradicted so-called 'Provider's privileges' safeguards that protect network operators from liability for traffic transiting their pipes. It could also clash with an EU directive safeguarding service providers as 'mere conduits' provided they did not modify data.

The ruling comes at a bad time for the Electronic Frontiers Foundation which on the same day as the ruling issued a blog promoting the use of Tor. ®

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