ProtonMail, known for its end-to-end encrypted emailing service, is under harsh criticism after it became known that the company had shared the IP address of a French activist with the official authorities. The company has widely acclaimed that it doesn’t log the IP addresses of its users, but it had to share this one time.
A detailed report from TechCrunch tells us the story about why the encrypted mailing service had to share the IP address with the Swiss authorities. ProtonMail is based out of Switzerland, and as its host country, the company has to follow Swiss laws. But, didn’t the company share the IP address of the French activist who was from France? Yes, it did. “While ProtonMail didn’t cooperate with French authorities, French police sent a request to Swiss police via Europol to force the company to obtain the IP address of one of its users,” says the report.
The data was a part of the ongoing investigation about a group of climate activists who have occupied a number of apartments and commercial spaces in Paris. The activist has since been arrested. He had used the address “[email protected]” in online postings, and the French authorities were able to get hold of him.
ProtonMail’s CEO, Any Yen, has since written a post titled “Important clarifications regarding arrest of climate activist.” The blog post reads:
“Proton received a legally binding order from Swiss authorities which we are obligated to comply with. There was no possibility to appeal this particular request. The prosecution in this particular case was very aggressive. Unfortunately, this is a pattern we have increasingly seen in recent years around the world.”
Obviously, Proton couldn’t provide the contents of the email — since it is end-to-end encrypted and cannot be accessed by even Proton. Despite this, it’s quite alarming as Proton advertises its email as one of the most privacy-focused in the world. Yen has since then pledged to update the service’s public documentation to “better clarify ProtonMail’s obligations in cases of criminal prosecution.”