ProtonMail court order leads to the arrest of French climate activist

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The personal electronic mail service Protonmail is drawing harsh criticism from its customers after offering IP data linked to a French activist who used the service, as first reported by TechCrunch.

The info was requested as a part of a broader investigation into a gaggle of local weather activists who’ve occupied a lot of residences and industrial areas in Paris. Whereas the members of the group are nameless, one had used the handle “jmm18@protonmail.com” in on-line postings. Consequently, French police sought to determine any individuals linked to the account.

As a result of ProtonMail is predicated in Switzerland, it isn’t topic to French or EU requests. However the firm continues to be topic to requests from Swiss courts, the place French police the place in a position to lodge their request with the assistance of Europol. After Swiss courts accredited the order, ProtonMail started logging IP data on the account, which was subsequently handed over to French police, resulting in the activist’s identification and arrest.

In a put up titled “Necessary clarifications relating to arrest of local weather activist,” Proton CEO Andy Yen mentioned he shared concern over the prosecution, and gave additional element on the authorized points that had compelled the corporate to offer the information.

“Proton acquired a legally binding order from Swiss authorities which we’re obligated to adjust to. There was no chance to attraction this explicit request,” Yen wrote within the put up. “The prosecution on this explicit case was very aggressive. Sadly, this can be a sample we now have more and more seen lately all over the world.”

Crucially, the order didn’t present the contents of the activist’s electronic mail, that are encrypted and can’t be accessed by Proton. Yen mentioned an analogous order would additionally not have the ability to present ProtonVPN metadata, as VPNs are topic to completely different necessities below Swiss regulation.

Nonetheless, the arrest is alarming for a lot of customers of ProtonMail, who had anticipated the service to have extra sturdy protections in opposition to authorized identification. Yen pledged to replace the service’s public documentation to “higher make clear ProtonMail’s obligations in instances of prison prosecution.”

Proton’s personal transparency report exhibits the alarming development of Swiss courtroom orders, together with these served on behalf of overseas investigations. In 2020, Proton complied with over 3,000 knowledge orders from Swiss courts, greater than double the quantity served within the earlier yr.

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