At Wired Next Fest Isabela Dias Fernandes talks about the importance of Tor and online anonymity

At Wired Next Fest Isabela Dias Fernandes talks about the importance of Tor and online anonymity

Since 2018, Isabela Dias Fernandes has been the executive director of Tor Project, the non-profit organization responsible for maintaining the Tor network and anonymous browser. Before being appointed director, Dias Fernandes worked for three years as a project manager for the organization. She previously spent a stint as a product manager at Twitter.

Fernandes was formed within the free software movements of the nineties, in Brazil, her country of origin. Almost out of necessity, she tells Opt Out Podcast, because proprietary software was extremely expensive. In 2007 he co-founded North by South, a startup dedicated to open source projects, for which he held the role of project manager for Latin America.

Work for the Brazilian government

In 2005, Fernandes held a number of positions for the Brazilian government, participating in an initiative to promote the use of free software within institutions. In 2003, the government of Brasilia initiated a process of adopting open source software for many of its entities. Open source has been defined as a "strategic choice" by the Brazilian government, both with the aim of reducing costs and for the diffusion of digital literacy in the country. In 2017, fourteen years after the initiative started, eighty-five percent of organizations linked to the federal government had developed open source software to solve specific problems. In 2006 Isabela Dias Fernandes took part in a project to migrate all the information technologies of the presidential palace to free software.

Career at Tor and the battle for privacy

In 2015 Dias Fernandes arrives at Tor, where he begins to work, among other things, on the browser user experience strategy. In 2108 he replaces Shari Steele in the role of executive director. Steel said of her, on the occasion of the handover: “[Fernandes] brings with him an experience and a global perspective on the issues of privacy and censorship, and I could not be more confident in his ability to lead the organization towards its next phase of growth ".

Speaking about the importance of working on privacy and anonymity online, Dias Fernandes told Startpage:" I believe that the growth of Tor users is very much related to the awareness of people about the importance of privacy. As well as with censorship events around the world. Our job is to improve the user experience and make it as easy as possible to use Tor so that they don't feel any difference compared to direct access to online services ".

Tor, acronym for The Onion Router, is a network that allows anonymous browsing. The latter should not be confused with incognito browsing, the option offered anc he from the most common browsers such as Google Chrome, which does not record the history and does not store cookies. Anonymous browsing, such as that offered by the Tor network and the browser of the same name, on the other hand, ensures that the user's IP address is not identifiable: when you connect to a site, the Tor network does not directly connect the computer to the site itself, but the connection “bounces” over multiple nodes before it reaches its final destination. The intermediate servers are called relays, and are encrypted, so that the user's IP is obfuscated.

"By building tools to democratize information - explains Dias Fernandes, also at Opt Out, referring to his involvement with the open source software movement - we have begun to better understand how information is hosted on the internet; we had to manage our servers (...). We had a very clear view of the data, of how much a server could have access to information ”. Working with social and political movements to raise awareness of the benefits of the Internet for political organization, Dias Fernandes has also begun to advocate the importance of privacy and its inextricable link with freedom of expression. Isabela Dias Fernandes will be a guest at the Next Fest in Milan on 7 and 8 October 2022, dedicated to the future of democracy.

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