ProtonMail under fire after giving authorities an activist’s IP address

ProtonMail, an email service that prides itself on security with end-to-end encryption, has come under fire after it leaked the IP address of a French climate activist to the Swiss police. As TechCrunch reports, the company acted on a request from French authorities about Europol, who were looking for help from the Swiss. Since it is based in Switzerland, ProtonMail must obey the laws of the country. This includes the logging of IP addresses of users in “extreme criminal cases”, according to the company’s own transparency report.

Andy Yen, CEO of Proton, pointed out in a blog post today that the company has tried to make it clear that it must abide by local laws. “In this case, Proton has received a legally binding order from the Swiss authorities, which we are obliged to comply with,” he wrote. “There was no way to appeal that particular motion.”

The case in question involves activists who have taken over commercial sites and apartments near Place Sainte Marthe in Paris. According to TechCrunch, the protest started as a local attempt to gentrify the neighborhood but quickly grew into a movement that made headlines in France. On September 1, they published an article claiming that the French authorities sent a message through Europol to find out who created their ProtonMail account.

Yen notes that the company’s encryption prevents the contents of a ProtonMail account from being viewed, nor does it know the identity of its users. So in this case, it was unaware that it was revealing information about climate activists. Going forward, the company will be clearer on how to handle law enforcement cases and will continue to promote the use of ProtonMail through its Tor site and the company’s VPN for users who are particularly privacy concerned.

In 2020, Proton said it received 3,572 orders for user information, disputed 750 orders, and eventually complied with 3,017 requests.

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