ProtonMail, an email service that prides itself on end-to-end encryption security, has faced criticism after handing over the IP address of a French climate activist to Swiss police. As TechCrunch reports, the company acted on a request made by the French authorities through Europol, which asked for help from the Swiss. Because it is headquartered in Switzerland, ProtonMail must comply with state laws. This includes recording users’ IP addresses in “extreme criminal cases”, according to its own transparency report.
Andy Yen, CEO of Proton, pointed out in today’s blog that the company has tried to make it clear that it must follow local laws. “In this case, Proton has received a legally binding order from the Swiss authorities, which we are obliged to respect,” he wrote. “There was no possibility of appeal against this request.”
It is an activist who took over commercial locations and apartments near Paris’ Place Sainte Martha. According to TechCrunch, the protest began as a local effort around gentrification in the neighborhood, but quickly grew into a movement that took national titles in France. On September 1, they published an article claiming that the French authorities had sent a message via Europol to find out who had opened their ProtonMail account.
Yen notes that the company’s encryption prevents it from seeing the contents of the ProtonMail account, and it also doesn’t know the identity of its users. So, in this case, he was not aware that he was revealing information about climate activists. As it progresses, he says, the company will be clearer in resolving prosecution cases, and will further promote the use of ProtonMile through the Tor site and VPN company for users who are particularly concerned about privacy.
In 2020, Proton says it received 3,572 customer information orders, disputed 750 orders, and ultimately fulfilled 3,017 requests.
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