After providing IP information linking to a French activist using Protonmail's private email service, Protonmail is being criticized by its users. TechCrunch first reported this criticism.
This data was required as part of a larger investigation into climate activists who occupy a variety of Paris apartments and commercial spaces. Although the identities of the group members are not known, one person had posted online at firstname.lastname@example.org with the address email@example.com. French police were able to identify anyone linked to the account.
This case saw aggressive prosecution
ProtonMail, which is based in Switzerland is not subject to French and EU requests. However, the company can still be requested by Swiss courts. The request was filed by the French police with the assistance of Europol. ProtonMail started to log IP information on the account after the Swiss court approved it. This led to the arrest of the activists and their identification.
Andy Yen, Proton CEO, stated that he was concerned about the arrest of climate activist. He also provided details on the legal issues that forced the company's release of the data in a post titled Important clarifications concerning the arrest.
Proton was issued a legally binding order by Swiss authorities, which we are obliged to follow. Yen stated in the post that there was no way to appeal this request. This case saw a very aggressive prosecution. This is a pattern that we have seen more often in recent years all over the globe.
The order didn't provide the contents the activists' email. These emails are encrypted and can not be accessed by Proton. Yen stated that a similar order would not allow ProtonVPN metadata to be provided, since VPNs are subjected to different Swiss laws.
However, ProtonMail users are still concerned by the arrest. They had expected more robust legal identification protections. Yen promised to update ProtonMail's public documentation in order to clarify ProtonMails obligations when facing criminal prosecution.
Protons transparency report shows alarming increases in Swiss court orders. This includes those issued on behalf of foreign investigation. Proton received more than 3,000 data orders from Swiss courts in 2020, nearly twice the amount served the previous year.