Encrypted email service ProtonMail gave a climate activist’s data to French authorities, after a Swiss court order legally obligated them to.
The end-to-end encrypted email service was founded in 2013, and boasted client-side encryption to protect user’s emails and data before they even arrive at the Proton servers. However, a recent blog post by Proton CEO Andy Yen confirms they had given French authorities data on a climate activist.
RT reports that the data request was over an investigation into the occupants of several Parisian flats and commercial properties used by climate activists. One of the email addresses was sought by French police. Proton gave the logging IP, leading the activist’s arrest.
The activist was arrested by French police on criminal charges. While he was “deeply concerned about this case and deplore that the legal tools for serious crimes are being used in this way,” Swiss authorities gave Proton a legally binding order (without appeal) to hand over the activist’s account details.
Yen nonetheless stated that their encryption could not be bypassed, does not give data to foreign governments (illegal under Swiss law), that Swiss authorities only approve requests meeting Swiss legal standards, and that a user must be notified if a third party is requesting their private data.
In addition, Yen states that as email and VPN are treated differently under Swiss law, Proton cannot be compelled to log user data, and that they do not know the identity of their users.
“At no point were we aware that the targeted users were climate activists,” Yen explain. “We only know that the order for data from the Swiss government came through channels typically reserved for serious crimes.”
Yen states Proton will be updating their website to better clarify their obligations in cases of criminal prosecution, and that they still “fight for users.” As stated in their transparency report, Proton had fought over 700 cases in 2020, and will continue to fight requests where possible.
Along with recommending Tor for users, Yen emphasizes that “there are worse laws than Swiss law,” and the “Switzerland generally will not assist prosecutions from countries without fair justice systems.”
Yen conclude that he has seen a pattern around the world of increasingly aggressive prosecution (such as Proton’s allegation against French anti-terror laws being inappropriately used). However, Proton will “continue to campaign against such laws and abuses, and we will continue to challenge unjustified government requests whenever possible.”
Additional Images: Twitter
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