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Freedom is a human right, and we are committed to defending it even when others won’t

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Since we launched in 2014, Proton Mail has been the preferred email service provider for activists around the world. Protecting freedom of speech and democracy is, after all, one of the main reasons we created Proton Mail in the first place. Normally, this would not be of particular interest to anyone: we have always believed that all citizens deserve the right to privacy, and we maintain neutrality on most political matters. 

But the decision by some companies(new window) to bow to political pressure(new window) surrounding activists in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Catalonia, and elsewhere has suddenly made this issue controversial. Given that some of these protesters are Proton Mail users, we would like to take this opportunity to clarify our position on the use of our platform by social activists.

Rising activism around the world

Reports of activism around the world have been on the rise, and in recent months, the size and frequency of protest movements appear to have rapidly increased. It is a fact that these activists  are increasingly turning to Proton Mail. 

Examples include activists in Hong Kong, including the makers of HKmap(new window), who are using our service to keep their communications secure. In Spain, Catalonian independence campaigners at Tsunami Democràtic(new window) have been using Proton Mail to coordinate their activities. In West Papua, the independent media activists at West Papua Media(new window) use Proton Mail to communicate with foreign journalists in response to enforced censorship by the Indonesian government. In the UK and the US, members of the climate protest group Extinction Rebellion(new window) have been using Proton Mail to organize. 

The right to peaceful protest is one of the cornerstones of democracy. The Internet has given people the tools to share ideas and coordinate their actions more easily than ever before. But equally it’s given governments the ability to shut down opposition more efficiently than at any other time in history. As a result, we believe tech companies have a responsibility to protect the essential freedoms that others have fought to gain. This doesn’t mean that we have to take a particular side in a debate, but it’s vital that we allow the debate to take place. 

Why activists choose Proton Mail

We founded Proton Mail to build an Internet that protects privacy, defends civil liberties, and keeps users safe from cyber attacks. We firmly believe in the right to free speech, the right to privacy and security, and the principle that no one should be prevented from exercising these rights. 

We believe that technology has an important role in safeguarding human rights in the 21st century. Specifically at Proton Mail, we have leveraged end-to-end encryption to protect privacy by ensuring that, on Proton Mail, only the sender and recipient can read user messages. No third party, no government, and not even us, can abuse Proton Mail to spy on user communications, thus enabling the privacy which forms the foundation of freedom of speech.

Because the technology behind our service protects against surveillance and government harassment, Proton Mail is the preferred platform for journalists, investigators, and human rights groups, particularly those working in high-risk environments. Because of our strong belief in the need to protect freedom of speech for all, we have also endeavored to go above and beyond(new window) to protect Proton’s most sensitive users from both cybercriminals and governments what would seek to deny these rights. This is a moral obligation that we feel all companies should seek to uphold, but this has unfortunately not been the case.

There is a long history of companies bowing to political or social pressure to protect their access to markets. We’ve seen Google filtering results in certain territories(new window) where censorship is legal, and more recently we’ve seen Apple store data in China(new window) and remove apps created by protesters, including the HKmap app developed by one of our users in Hong Kong. 

At Proton Mail, we’ve taken a different approach that honors both political neutrality and the belief that the rights of privacy and free speech should apply to everyone.

We support peaceful protest and access to privacy

Proton is a Swiss company, which means we operate under Swiss law and only Swiss law. Therefore, users are protected by Switzerland’s strong rule of law: foreign law enforcement requests must be approved by a Swiss court before we can be compelled to act on them. When protesters use Proton Mail, we don’t take a position for or against the protest, only that we support the right to peacefully protest.

We do, however, take a position on the right to privacy, security, and freedom of speech. We firmly believe that everyone, no matter where they live or what they believe, has a right to express their ideas peacefully in public and privately online. We have also supported various causes ourselves, from a face surveillance moratorium(new window) to net neutrality(new window).

Finally, it is important to note that the use of Proton Mail is not unconditional. We have clear terms and conditions that prohibit activity that would be illegal in Switzerland, such as hate speech or destruction of property. Breaking these rules will result in accounts being disabled. If a Swiss court rules that your usage of Proton Mail is illegal, this would also result in your account being shut down, as we must abide by all applicable Swiss laws. 

We’re proud that our platform is being used by activists as a means of communicating, staying safe, and getting their voices heard. Everyone has the right to privacy, whether they are a campaigner or a regular member of the public, and Proton Mail is happy to provide the means for this to happen. There are no factors, political or economic, which can lead us to compromise this core value.

Best regards,
The Proton Mail Team

About Proton Mail
Proton Mail is the world’s largest secure email service. Founded in Geneva in 2014 by scientists who met at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN), Proton Mail protects over 10 million users, including journalists, activists, doctors, lawyers, businesses, and ordinary citizens who want email that is both safer and more private. Because messages are end-to-end encrypted, we cannot read your emails, sell your data to advertisers or compromise the privacy of your communications. Proton Mail is email as it should be — private and secure.

You can get a free secure email account from Proton Mail here(new window).

We also provide a free VPN service(new window) to protect your privacy.

Proton Mail and Proton VPN are funded by community contributions. If you would like to support our development efforts, you can upgrade to a paid plan(new window). Thank you for your support.

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Andy Yen(new window)

Andy is the founder and CEO of Proton. He is a long-time advocate for privacy rights and has spoken at TED, Web Summit, and the United Nations about online privacy issues. Previously, Andy was a research scientist at CERN and has a PhD in particle physics from Harvard University.

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