In France, a French activist who was arrested by the police for being part of a hacktivist group is facing trial for allegedly breaching a major website’s privacy by bypassing its security. The hacktivist group, Anonymous, had previously hacked into French websites that were supporting a ban on a protest march organized by a far-right political party.

Back in April, a political activist in France was arrested, and his ISP was required to hand over his IP address. The French government, the activist’s ISP, and the activist himself all agreed at the time, that they did this merely because they were required to do so. The French government assured the activist that this would not happen again. Three months later, however, it happened again.

In late July, a user on the web forum Reddit claimed to have found a discrepancy in Protonmail’s privacy policy. The user, who goes by the username “sagarcasm”, said that he noticed that the recipient of an email sent from his Protonmail account was logged and stored by the company, and that the information was not deleted for 30 days.

Protonmail has been chastised for recording the IP address of a French climate activist on the instructions of Swiss authorities, who were tasked by the French police to find the activist in the first place.

The business has been outspoken about the event on Twitter and Reddit, and even went so far as to explain the situation on Monday, saying that IP logging was not enabled by default and had to be done in order to comply with local authorities or, in this instance, Swiss legislation. 

When approached by the French Police, Protonmail refused to comply, prompting the latter to call the Swiss Police through Europol to compel the business to hand over the information requested. Three authorities in two nations were needed to provide their permission in total.

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 The movement began a year ago when a group of individuals took over a few commercial buildings and residences near Paris’ Place Sainte Marthe to oppose gentrification, real estate speculation, Airbnb, and high-end restaurants.

Starting as a local dispute, the issue quickly grew into a symbolic campaign that drew national attention. The group began occupying space leased by Le Petit Cambodge, a restaurant that was also attacked in the 2015 Paris terror attacks on November 13th.

On September 1, Protonmail made a blunder when it published an article on the anti-capitalist news website Police investigations and court proceedings against a handful of the group’s members were mentioned in the article.

It further claimed that French police contacted Protonmail through Europol to inquire about the name of a group member who communicated using a Protonmail email address. The rest of the gang followed suit and used the same email address. 

The following day, MuArF sent a tweet with an overview of the current inquiry and Protonmail’s response to the request. The French Police received a Europol communication containing the information of the Protonmail account, according to the abstract. 

In response to the police complaint, Andy Yen, Proton’s founder and CEO, said that they had no option but to comply with the order. It was conveyed by Swiss authorities on the basis of a criminal accusation. The business is attempting to explain that they did not collaborate with the French Police or Europol, but that they were unable to overturn the Swiss authorities’ decision. 

“In this instance, Proton got a legally binding order from Swiss authorities, which we are obliged to comply with; there was no way to challenge this specific request,” Yen stated in the company’s statement. 

Swiss legislation must be followed by Proton. Privacy safeguards may be revoked as soon as a crime is committed, and we are obliged by Swiss law to respond to demands from Swiss authorities.

September 5, 2021 — Andy Yen (@andyyen)

Yen also reacted to the police report tweet by saying that the business must follow Swiss legislation. 

Each person is also notified anytime their data is requested, giving them time and an opportunity to object to the request, whether it is made by ProtonMail or Swiss authorities.

When possible, Protonmail fights these reports. “We will fight requests whenever feasible, but it is not always possible,” the firm said, adding that over 700 instances were contested in 2020. 

In this instance, it seems that Proton was obliged to cooperate with the Swiss authorities’ request since the accusation was being treated as a criminal one, resulting in the French Police obtaining what they sought. Only Swiss law applies to Protonmail, but even that is deteriorating.

According to Protonmail’s transparency report, the company got 13 requests from Swiss authorities in 2017, rising to 3572 in 2020. According to the study, the number of international requests for data granted by the Swiss has increased dramatically, from 13 in 2017 to 195 in 2020. 

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When he’s not writing/editing/shooting/hosting all things tech, he streams himself racing virtual automobiles. Yadullah may be reached at [email protected], or you can follow him on Instagram or Twitter.

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