IT ministry looks to block Proton Mail on request of Tamil Nadu police | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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IT ministry looks to block Proton Mail on request of Tamil Nadu police

Feb 15, 2024 08:18 AM IST

The IT ministry decided to issue an order blocking the end-to-end encrypted email service at the request of TN police over a hoax bomb threat sent to 13 schools

The IT ministry has decided to issue an order blocking end-to-end encrypted email service Proton Mail on Wednesday at the request of the Tamil Nadu police over a hoax bomb threat sent to at least thirteen private schools in Chennai on February 8, HT has learnt.

Representational image.
Representational image.

The decision to block Proton Mail was taken at a meeting of the 69A blocking committee on Wednesday afternoon. Under Section 69A of the IT Act, the designated officer, on approval by the IT Secretary and at the recommendation of the 69A blocking committee, can issue orders to any intermediary or a government agency to block any content for national security, public order and allied reasons.

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HT could not ascertain if a blocking order will be issued to Apple and Google to block the Proton Mail app. The final order to block the website has not yet been sent to the Department of Telecommunications but the MeitY has flagged the issue with the DoT.

During the meeting, the nodal officer representing the Tamil Nadu government submitted that a bomb threat was sent to multiple schools using ProtonMail, HT has learnt. The police attempted to trace the IP address of the sender but to no avail. They also tried to seek help from the Interpol but that did not materialise either, the nodal officer said. During the meeting, HT has learnt, MeitY representatives noted that getting information from Proton Mail, on other criminal matters, not necessarily linked to Section 69A related issues, is a recurrent problem.

In an emailed response to HT, Proton acknowledged that it had received notice from MeitY about “a possible block”. “We condemn a potential block as a misguided measure that only serves to harm ordinary people. Blocking access to Proton is an ineffective and inappropriate response to the reported threats. It will not prevent cybercriminals from sending threats with another email service and will not be effective if the perpetrators are located outside of India,” the company said.

It also said that under Swiss law, “Proton cannot answer directly to foreign law enforcement authorities” but “Swiss authorities may assist foreign authorities with requests, provided they are valid under international assistance procedures and determined to be in compliance with Swiss law”.

The spokesperson said that Proton received the request from MeitY “a few days ago”. “We are currently working to resolve this situation and are investigating how we can best work together with the Indian authorities to do so. We understand the urgency of the situation and are completely clear that our services are not to be used for illegal purposes. We routinely remove users who are found to be doing so and are willing to cooperate wherever possible within international cooperation agreements,” the spokesperson said.

Although Proton Mail is end-to-end encrypted, which means the content of the emails cannot be intercepted and can only be seen by the sender and recipient if both are using Proton Mail, its privacy policy states that due to the nature of the SMTP protocol, certain email metadata — including sender and recipient email addresses, the IP address incoming messages originated from, attachment name, message subject, and message sent and received times — is available with the company.

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