Anonymity Sep 09, 2021

Encrypted Mail Service ProtonMail Forced to Provide User Data to US Authorities

Popular encrypted mail service ProtonMail has been forced by Swiss authorities…

The encrypted mail service industry has been blossoming over the past few years in response to an increasing demand for hidden mail services. Encrypted mail users have been looking to circumvent the less-than-ideal cybersecurity practices of major tech players such as Google.

In a new twist, it appears that the encrypted mail field is becoming compromised by government interference by law enforcement agencies looking to unmask the real identities of users.

ProtonMail, which tops the league of encrypted mail service providers, was recently compelled to cooperate with Swiss authorities who demanded that they surrender user data to U.S. security agencies.

According to reports, the user data in question entails the date of account creation for a user that has allegedly been sending threats of violence to Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key authority in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and his family.

Criminal Attacks via ProtonMail

According to an affidavit filed in the U.S. District Court for Maryland, Thomas Connally spent the past seven months sending regular attacks via a ProtonMail account to the chief COVID-19 advisor to the U.S. government.

The anonymous emails featured threats of gun violence, physical hits, torture, arson and death to the U.S. official and his family.

Expectedly, it turns out that the Connally’s threats were influenced by his strong opinion against the COVID-19 vaccination exercise that has since been shadowed by conspiracies being shared across various platforms, including the dark web community.

A recent article published by the Zurich-based German-language national newspaper Tages-Anzeiger cited Switzerland’s action in arresting the suspect who’s currently facing a ten-year prison sentence for his crime.

Can ProtonMail Be Trusted?

The latest event appears to have cultivated conversations on the Dread Forum, which point to an increasing discomfort among dark web users that seem skeptical about ProtonMail moving forward.

Figure 1: Screenshot of a Dread forum debate about ProtonMail

One user opined that ProtonMail’s use of Javascript was the main issue of concern, although they cited the encrypted mail service’s claim of a new security audit that may have fixed the issue. However, another user advised against the use of ProtonMail for anything darknet market-related.

So – what’s the deal?

The fact that ProtonMail chose to be domiciled in Switzerland had initially influenced a general sense of trust among its vast community of loyal users.

Nonetheless, even while facing the reality that Switzerland is not a member of the Fourteen Eyes Surveillance Alliance, it would be fallacious for users to assume that the country is a defender of digital privacy.

In fact, ProtonMail founder Andy Yen had previously intimated that the encrypted mail firm was planning to move its assets from Switzerland following the surveillance laws that were reportedly enacted in response to the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.

The promise was never fulfilled and ProtonMail retained its headquarters in Switzerland, which predisposed the service to legal obligations concerning the requirement to comply with a Swiss surveillance law that facilitates collaboration with U.S. authorities.


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