A prominent digital privacy researcher has denied a series of anonymous online accusations that he sexually harassed and assaulted colleagues over a period of several years.
It’s a bizarre twist for Jacob Appelbaum, who has spent his career making it easier for people act anonymously online. Appelbaum, 33, is closely linked to both Edward Snowden and the Tor Project, the not-for-profit organization behind the anonymous web browser. Over the weekend, anonymous accusers created a website that alleges Appelbaum emotionally and sexually abused others in the community repeatedly.
The uproar caused Appelbaum to resign his post with the Tor Project on Saturday. On Sunday, he published a detailed statement in which he insisted that “a spurious and vicious campaign” was being waged against him.
“These unsubstantiated and unfounded attacks have become so aggressive that I feel it’s necessary to set the record straight … I want to be clear: the accusations of criminal sexual misconduct against me are entirely false.”
He went on to suggest the accusations were part of a coordinated campaign against him because of his work as an anti-surveillance activist. Appelbaum has previously said authorities have raided his Berlin apartment.
“Vague rumors and smear campaigns against me are nothing new,” he wrote in a post on Twitter. “As a longtime public advocate for free speech and a secure internet, there have been plenty of attempts to undermine my work over the years.
“Inevitably, there may have been moments in my professional or private life when I may have inadvertently hurt or offended others’ feelings. Whenever I was aware of these instances, I have, and will continue to, apologize to the friends and colleagues in question and to continually learn how to be a better person.”
Others in the tightly knit internet security community aren’t brushing off the attacks. In a statement on Tor’s website, executive director Shari Steele said the new public allegations “were consistent with rumors some of us had been hearing for some time. That said, the most recent allegations are much more serious and concrete than anything we had heard previously”.
“We are deeply troubled by these accounts,” she said, adding that Tor has spoken with at least some of Applebaum’s accusers.
The Guardian was not able to reach any of the anonymous victims.
Appelbaum’s publicist didn’t immediately return a request for additional comment.
The researcher maintains elite status in privacy technology and internet freedom circles. He has helped journalists parse the trove of documents leaked by Snowden, and even accepted an award on behalf of the former US spy contractor, who is stilling living in exile in Russia.