The first time she met Roger Dingledine, he appeared without any notice or fanfare.
Kate Krauss didn’t think the renowned internet privacy expert was going to come to her community workshop on internet privacy. She hadn’t heard anything from him, despite her email invitation. It was the fall of 2011, and Krauss, now director of communications for Tor, was the executive director of the AIDS Policy Project at the time. In those days, she had been growing more and more passionate about internet privacy and information freedom — she started ending every talk she gave about AIDS with a few slides about privacy.
That’s why Krauss co-organized a community workshop at the LAVA Space in her neighborhood of West Philly, to educate people about internet security threats and how they could protect themselves.
She didn’t know Dingledine personally, but she knew he was in Philadelphia, so she invited him. It was a longshot, she knew. As one of the original developers of Tor, a service that allows users to surf the web anonymously, Dingledine was (and still is) “a really big deal,” Krauss said.
But Krauss, who spent more than a decade as an AIDS activist, wasn’t fazed. She invited him anyway.
“I just have a huge amount of chutzpah,” she said.
Activists, organizers, software developers and lawyers came to West Philly that fall morning to learn about computer security.
Halfway through the event, someone knocked on the door. Krauss looked out the window and there was Dingledine, standing on Lancaster Avenue, trash blowing in the wind around him. He ended up teaching a big chunk of the workshop and even uploading some patches to Tor during the Q&A session. Then they went out for pizza.
She later found out that he rarely checks his email and didn’t have a telephone. That, and he’s really, really busy. That’s why she never heard from him.
Now, four years later, Krauss, 52, has become Tor’s first director of communications. She took the post in March.
“As Tor continues to go mainstream, her communication skills are critical to helping us get there,” Dingledine, Tor’s interim executive director, said of Krauss in a press release announcing her hire. “Tor’s wide diversity of users—from civic-minded individuals and ordinary consumers to activists, journalists, and companies—is part of its security. Kate is critical to helping us reach all of these audiences at once.”
Krauss isn’t like many of the communications execs we’ve met. She’s more informal, less buttoned-up. She’s easy to be around.
Her internet alias is “ailanthus,” a plant that starts as weed and pushes up the concrete in West Philly, she said. It’s also the name of one of the West Philly activist group-houses she used to live in. She also just thinks it’s a pretty word.
We first met Krauss at the Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium at Drexel earlier this month, where she gave us a lay of the land and spoke about the importance of internet privacy and its role in fighting censorship and protecting whistleblowers and activists.
“If you care about democracy in the U.S., it’s a huge issue,” she said, adding that the members of the internet freedom community “see privacy as a right.”
It’s an issue that touches much more than the tech sector, she said. Environmental activists should care, for example, because of the threat of surveillance of anti-fracking groups.
Krauss is also passionate about Philadelphia’s women-in-tech scene. Compared to San Francisco, where she spent a decade living and working, Philly is more welcoming and supportive to women in tech, she said. It’s an issue she’s long felt strongly about.
Krauss wonders: why not capitalize on this regional strength?
“Why can’t we have the brightest women in the country here?” she asked.
We should be attracting female entrepreneurs and scientists from Caltech and MIT, she said.
“‘We support women in Philadelphia,'” she said. “That’s what our message should be.”
Krauss also noted that many of the players in the local internet freedom scene, perhaps contradicting entrenched stereotypes, are women: Drexel’s Rachel Greenstadt, Penn’s Nadia Heninger, Hacktory cofounder Stephanie Alarcon, Simply Secure’s Sara “Scout” Sinclair Brody. Many of Tor’s top developers are also women, she said.
Want to get involved with the internet freedom scene? Krauss suggests getting volunteering with Tor:
For people who make their living on the internet, helping the Tor Project is a way to give back. We keep journalists and activists who live in repressive countries safe online. People can run a Tor relay or make a donation or just hack on code as a volunteer with a friendly group of other Tor people. We’re starting to run Tor relays in libraries and museums—a company or organization with extra bandwidth running a Tor relay here in Philly would be awesome.
People who are interested can just drop me a line at kate AT torproject.org