Protonmail, the email service that has as its emblem the privacy of its users and the encryption of sensitive information, is currently under trial, following the controversial persecution of a French activist tracked through the aforementioned email system.
We recently commented on the first antecedents about this case, which recently led to the arrest of a French activist identified through this medium.
Activist identified through Protonmail arrested in France
Responding to a request from the French justice through Europol, the European Police Office, Protonmail provided information that helped identify a French activist persecuted in his country.
Through the account «firstname.lastname@example.org», one of the members of an activism group responsible for organizing protests on real estate speculation, illegally occupying real estate, was identified.
Although Protonmail offers privacy guarantees, including end-to-end encryption of the messages that are exchanged, the Swiss-based company had to provide the investigated email address, plus the linked IP address, data about the device used. and the number with which the device was identified.
After one of the people linked to the identified account was identified, the French justice proceeded with his arrest. Faced with criticism, which questions the real protection of the privacy of its users, Protonmail issued a clarifying letter.
The message entitled “Important clarifications on the arrest of climate activist”, signed by Andy Yen, CEO of the company after Protonmail, specified some points questioned after this episode.
In its open letter, Proton Technologies clarifies that the encryption that protects the content that is exchanged through its mail service can never be circumvented. Regarding requests for information, they point out that the company does not respond to requests from foreign governments, unless these requests are channeled through a means adjusted to the legislation of their country of origin, Switzerland.
In this particular case, the request of the French justice, mediated by Europol, reached the Swiss port “Through channels typically reserved for serious crimes”According to the company’s message, which emphasizes in the same text that through the means that are within its reach, it is impossible to know the identity of its users, even clarifying that according to their own background, they could not identify that the users The target of this French operation were climate activists.
The real effectiveness of the privacy guaranteed by this service is being questioned after this episode. However, the aforementioned Protonmail message indicates that the best alternative comes from the hand of a VPN. In that space, Yen said that a similar order would also not be able to provide metadata for ProtonVPN, its virtual private network service, since these networks are subject to different regulations under Swiss law.
It is natural that in a case like this those who most trusted the privacy guaranteed by this service, now doubt it. Faced with this scenario, Yen undertook to update the public documentation of the services of the company that he presides, in order to “Better clarify ProtonMail’s obligations in criminal prosecution cases”.