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ProtonMail wins appeal against surveillance laws

New win.

Switzerland-based email and VPN provider Proton has won an appeal filed against the Swiss Post and Telecommunications Surveillance Service (PTSS) that tried to classify the service provider as a telecommunications provider.

If that were the case, ProtonMail and ProtonVPN would be subjected to Swiss telecommunications surveillance laws that would significantly undermine its business focused on privacy, security and strong encryption.

PTSS, which acts as a coordinator between Swiss police, prosecutors or spy agencies looking to obtain user information from tech companies, is yet to comment on the court’s decision.

The laws in question, that PTSS in September 2020 decided apply to tech companies as well, strip them of their right to what’s described as limited surveillance obligations.

PTSS said Proton and others would have to monitor email traffic, retain data and make it available, but the Swiss Federal Administrative Court on Friday agreed with Proton’s appeal and ruled that the company is not a telecommunications provider and for that reason cannot be forced to comply with relevant data retention rules.

In April, the Swiss Supreme Court said that chat, messaging, internet video and phone providers also don’t fall into the telecommunications category but are OTT (“over-the-top”) providers, Reuters writes.

Proton hailed both rulings as a victory for privacy in the country and for its tech startups. CEO Any Yen said the most recent ruling was important as the first step, but that the company was expecting more pressure to coerce tech firms to “undermine privacy in both Switzerland and abroad.”

He pledged that Proton will fight back both by legal means, and thanks to the end-to-end encryption technology used in its products.

Proton was recently criticized for giving the Swiss police the IP address of a user in France, who is said to be “a climate activist” and who was later detained in that country.

In a recent blog post, Proton said the company chose Switzerland as its base because it is a country with strong privacy laws, but that it’s system is not perfect, and that turning over the IP address was a legal obligation.

Proton also clarified that while ProtonVPN keeps no IP logs at all, but that, “as an email service, ProtonMail has different legal obligations and different technical and security requirements (for example, we must prevent spam and block attacks).”

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