Russia Blocked ProtonMail and StartMail Services Again

By Bill Toulas / January 30, 2020

The Russian internet and communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, has announced its decision to block ProtonMail, ProtonVPN, and StartMail services in the country. The two are email services that support encrypted communications, so they are used by people who want to secure their privacy. Their typical users are activists, human rights and freedom of speech advocates, journalists, etc. Thus, the banning of these services in Russia is a blow in the rights of the citizens to communicate privately and securely, and without worrying that the government or the law authorities will arrest them for whatever reason.

Officially, Roskomnadzor has stated that the reason for this block is that ProtonMail is used by fake bomb threat actors which result in the evacuation of public buildings, cost money and time, and bind police resources for no good reason. This reminds us of a story from a couple of months ago where the Belarusian government decided to block ProtonMail for the same reasons. The Russian claim to have asked ProtonMail to hand over the identities of the users who delivered the bomb threats, but the email company allegedly denied to provide any help. The Swiss, however, dispute these claims and state that Roskomnadzor never reached out to them.

The story is similar with the Netherlands-based StartMail, which was blocked too. Robert Beens, the CEO of StartMail has stated that: “StartMail never registered for this register (Roskomvoboda) or contacted the Russian authorities in any way, nor has StartMail provided any information about StartMail users to the Russian authorities. It seems that at present, the IP addresses of StartMail’s email servers are being blocked and the website is no longer available from Russia. We feel that there is no justification for blocking StartMail will continue to evaluate the technical situation to see if we can restore access to our encrypted email service for our Russian users.”

The Russian authorities have done this again in the past, when they ordered two ISPs to block access to ProtonMail’s SMTP server. This had happened during demonstrations in Moscow, so it was not a random block. Proton managed to convince the authorities to lift the block back then, and this is what they’re planning to do now too. As the service commented: “We are reaching out to the appropriate authorities to get the block lifted as soon as possible. We condemn this block as a misguided measure which only serves to harm ordinary people.”

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