There are quite few Internet services today advertising absolute privacy from both hackers and government agencies, like Signal for messaging. After Lavabit’s controversial shutdown, ProtonMail rose up to become the advertised email service of choice for privacy-minded users, especially those with secrets to staying. However, those secrets may sometimes conflict with certain countries’ laws, which frequently results in email service providers delivering data to spot users under investigation. While ProtonMail advertised privacy and security against such actions, it had been forced to subside to such legal demands, resulting in the arrest of global climate change activists in France.
This rather messy legal situation revolves around some members of the green movement Youth For Climate charged with fixing “climate camp” occupations in 2020 and 2021. Although those incidents happened in Paris, the investigation revealed some activists using ProtonMail to speak about their activities. This eventually led to the Swiss government ordering the email service handy over the IP addresses of the users above, which eventually resulted in their arrest.
So @ProtonMail received a legal request from Europol through Swiss authorities to provide information about Youth for Climate action in Paris, they provided the IP address and information on the type of device used to the police https://t.co/KtKF4wn3wv
— Etienne – Tek (@tenacioustek) September 5, 2021
This might come as a shock to people who hold the normal view of Switzerland as a bastion of privacy and autonomy from foreign powers, but the truth may not match that image. Additionally to new laws that add A level of surveillance to entities based within the country, Switzerland also has got to play nice with other sovereign nations. While Swiss courts attempt to lean towards denying requests for data from foreign governments, this is often one such instance where it agreed with the stress of Europol.
Of course, ProtonMail was legally forced handy over that data, but it didn’t escape without incurring the wrath of the online . It had been questioned why it possessed users’ IP addresses within the first place when it advertises that it doesn’t log IP addresses by default. ProtonMail founder and CEO Andy Yen explains that it only started logging the precise users’ IP addresses after it had been legally forced to try to dodo so by Swiss authorities.
Some thoughts on the French "climate activist" incident. It's deplorable that legal tools for serious crimes are being used in this way. But by law, @ProtonMail must comply with Swiss criminal investigations. This is obviously not done by default, but only if legally forced.
— Andy Yen (@andyyen) September 5, 2021
Netizens are still taking issue with ProtonMail’s marketing, hiding the legal intricacies of its logging activities faraway from its front page. Conversely, ProtonMail isn’t exempt from Swiss laws whilst it promises to continue fighting against data requests the maximum amount because it can. On the opposite hand, it probably clarifies the nitty-gritty of its privacy terms, especially for paying subscribers that have expected more from ProtonMail.