ProtonMail, a widely recognized email service known for its strong emphasis on user privacy and adherence to Swiss law, complied with nearly 6,000 requests from governments to hand over user data in 2022.
This is a significant increase of 1,000 from the previous year, and it stands out, given ProtonMail’s branding around stringent privacy protections and the rigorous Swiss legal framework.
- Data Transparency: Proton’s annual transparency report revealed that in 2022, ProtonMail received almost 7,000 formal government requests to hand over user metadata. Out of these, the company declined over 1,000 requests and granted 5,957. In contrast, 2021 saw 6,000 such requests, of which 4,920 were approved. In 2020, the numbers were 3,700 submitted and 3,000 granted, respectively.
- Company Statement: In response to the increase, Proton communicated to Restoreprivacy that the surge in both received and granted requests is “not surprising” as the service continues to gain users. Currently, over 100 million people use one or more Proton services, primarily attracted by the company’s commitment to anonymity and the strict Swiss laws. All government data requests have to pass through Swiss legal channels. Should any breach of Swiss law be identified, Proton is obligated to submit user details to the Swiss government, which can then forward this information to the requesting government. It’s essential to note that Proton can only hand over metadata. The content of emails, attachments, and other data remains encrypted and unreadable, even to Proton itself, the company stresses.
- Notable Case: One of the agencies seeking user data from ProtonMail was the American FBI. With the provided metadata, the FBI was able to track down a US-based ProtonMail user under investigation for threatening an individual associated with the presidential elections. Forbes detailed this in a report, also highlighting that no formal charges were filed against the ProtonMail user in question.
While ProtonMail operates under the strict guidelines of Swiss law and prioritizes user privacy, the increasing number of data requests, and the subsequent compliances, might raise concerns among its users. Especially for those who gravitate towards the platform for its promise of heightened anonymity and robust encryption protocols.
The rising number of government requests and ProtonMail’s subsequent compliances have spotlighted the delicate balance email service providers must strike between respecting user privacy and adhering to global legal requirements