- Two Russian Internet Service Providers block access to the ProtonMail SMTP server.
- The block first occurred during the Sunday demonstrations in Moscow, where thousands protested against the lack of internet freedom.
- Proton is already working towards the resolution of the blocks and calls the Russian government to reconsider their position.
According to a Russian media outlet, ProtonMail is no longer accessible by users in the country. The block has been imposed by the Federal Security Service, who accuse ProtonMail (and others) of facilitating bomb threats and terrorist acts in Russia. The blocking action was taken by MTS and Rostelecom, the two largest ISPs of the country. Andy Yen, the CEO of ProtonMail has characterized the blocking action as “particularly sneaky” because the block is being applied to the back-end mail delivery servers. This allows users to continue to access their inbox without a problem, but it’s no longer possible for them to send any messages.
Many of those who have used ProtonMail to send bomb threats to the Russian police lately have selected a particular email service because it offers unmatched levels of privacy protection and online security. As Dr. Andy Yen has told TechNadu during an interview back in October, ProtonMail is a tool with which people restore some of their well-deserved internet freedom. “The Internet was supposed to be a tool that would spread democracy worldwide, but in many cases, it’s been used to censor information and spy on citizens. We built ProtonMail and ProtonVPN specifically for this reason. We want to make the tools of Internet privacy and freedom easily and freely accessible to anyone.”
ProtonMail is not only used by terrorists, or those who want to deliver (fake) bomb threats, but also activists, journalists, and advocates of internet freedom, human rights, and freedom of speech. That said, completely banning it in a large and populous country such as Russia means that the freedom, security, and even safety of many Russian citizens who are not terrorists is now compromised. This is at least irresponsible from the side of the authorities, who don’t seem to care about those who need anonymity for their own protection and the seamless exercise of their occupation and social function.
Dr. Yen is already working towards the restoration of the private email service, and has stated the following to TechCrunch: “We have also implemented technical measures to ensure continued service for our users in Russia and we have been making good progress in this regard. If there is indeed a legitimate legal complaint, we encourage the Russian government to reconsider their position and solve problems by following established international law and legal procedures.”
The Russian officials have chosen not to make a statement on the matter, as this is in perfect alignment with their approach on internet freedom anyway. ProtonMail was tentatively blocked last Sunday, when more than 15000 Moscow citizens protested against the lack of internet freedom in the country, expressing their opposition to the government’s plans on a “Sovereign Internet” as well as the new $75 fine that will be imposed to those who disrespect the state. ProtonMail could have been used for the coordination of such demonstrations, as it is one of the very few remaining privacy-sheltering platforms for Russian citizens right now.
очередь на рамках на митинге в защиту интернета, люди кричат «пропускай» pic.twitter.com/i5SD5vDmGM
— маша борзунова (@mborzunova) March 10, 2019
We have reached to Dr. Andy Yen (ProtonMail) about the matter, and we have received the following response:
"Allegedly, the reason for the block is because of criminals using ProtonMail to send threats, but the method of the block (preventing messages from being sent to ProtonMail, as opposed to blocking delivery of messages from ProtonMail) seems inconsistent with that claim. We have implemented some measures to minimize the impact of the block and services are currently running normally again in Russia. We also recommend for Russian users impacted by this block to encourage their contacts to get a free ProtonMail account to secure their communications."
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