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Privacy vs. Security: ProtonMail May Be Blocked in India Over Encryption Dispute

Proton, the privacy-focused software company, finds itself embroiled in controversy in India as its encrypted email service, ProtonMail, stands accused of being used to send bomb threats to schools in Tamil Nadu


The privacy-focused software company Proton has found itself at the center of controversy in India after its encrypted email service ProtonMail was allegedly used to send bomb threats to schools in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. While Proton maintains its innocence and states it is ready to cooperate, the Indian government has taken the drastic measure of attempting to block access to the service across the country.

This escalation comes amidst growing tensions between governments seeking increased surveillance powers and tech companies building privacy protections into their products. ProtonMail’s end-to-end encryption prevents even Proton itself from accessing user data, which authorities claim obstructs investigations. However, privacy advocates argue this is a necessary tradeoff to protect free expression and whistleblowers from reprisal.

According to reports, at least 13 private schools in the city of Chennai received threatening emails from ProtonMail accounts last week. The messages claimed bombs had been planted in the schools, though no explosives were ultimately found. The Tamil Nadu police cybercrime unit traced the emails to ProtonMail and requested the company provide details to identify the sender.

Proton maintains they never received a formal legal request and that Indian authorities failed to follow appropriate protocols. Regardless, police say Proton was “unresponsive” to informal requests for information. Stymied in their investigation and under public pressure to find the perpetrator, authorities asked the Indian IT Ministry to block ProtonMail nationwide.

In a statement, Proton claimed the block would be “ineffective and inappropriate,” only serving to harm ordinary citizens relying on their privacy protections. The company says it condemns the threats and is ready to support a legal investigation, but insists blocking access to ProtonMail for millions of innocent users is not a proportionate response.

Indian authorities previously forced Proton to shut down its VPN service in the country in 2022 over similar unresolved disputes regarding local data storage laws. This latest incident suggests continued misunderstandings between Proton’s privacy priorities and the surveillance powers sought by Indian security agencies.

For now, the attempted block remains in dispute. But the controversy illustrates the growing global struggle between government demands for access and tech companies trying to protect user privacy. As ProtonMail finds itself thrust into the center of this debate in India, the outcome could impact privacy rights far beyond the country’s borders.

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