PayPal locks out ProtonMail, asks if encrypted email service has government approval

PayPal locked down ProtonMail's account allegedly because PayPal isn't sure if the Swiss-based, NSA-proof email service 'is legal'

We previously looked at the huge demand for ProtonMail, an easy-to-use and free NSA-proof email service created by CERN and MIT scientists. It is based in Switzerland, meaning the U.S. government can't just hoover it up without an enforceable Swiss court order, which is hard to come by since the Swiss legal system has "strong privacy protections." The demand for the end-to-end encrypted email service was so high that ProtonMail ran out of a month's worth of server capacity in three days.

On June 17, ProtonMail started an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for more servers and hosting. The goal was $100,000; the amount raised so far is $290,561 and there's still 17 days to go. But as of this morning, ProtonMail has become the latest victim of PayPal.

Sure, the folks behind ProtonMail said, they had heard the "PayPal horror stories;" it's been happening for years, no matter the cause. I remember when PayPal shut down Hackers for Charity. After massive bad press, the PayPal Executive office stepped in, apologized, and helped unlock the funds. Since then, there have been plenty of good crowdfunded causes that have ended up with PayPal locking their accounts. PayPal promised to improve their policies, but those were "hollow promises" as, without warning, PayPal froze ProtonMail's account.

ProtonMail systems admin Andy Yen wrote:

While the $275,000 ProtonMail has raised in the past 2 weeks is a large amount, it pales in comparison to many other crowdfunding campaigns that have raised sums in excess of $1,000,000 so we can't help but wonder why ProtonMail was singled out. When we pressed the PayPal representative on the phone for further details, he questioned whether ProtonMail is legal and if we have government approval to encrypt emails. We are not sure which government PayPal is referring to, but even the 4th Amendment of the US constitution guarantees:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures...."

Oh hell no! Happy flipping early Independence Day to the "land of free" and Americans who might be seeking to help fund an encrypted email service not based on U.S. soil.

It could be a matter of stupid PayPal policies, or it could be that the person speaking on behalf of PayPal was completely clueless. If the government is actually leaning on PayPal because ProtonMail will be out of its data-hoarding reach, then there is a chance that credit card payments could be next. At least, that was the case for WikiLeaks.

ProtonMail has promised to ignore law enforcement requests, but if the Swiss legal system sees legitimate reason, then an order could be served to hand over a single user's data. That doesn't make the service illegal, it just makes warrantless collection "impossible."

Many people had asked for PayPal to be an option, which is why ProtonMail said it used the service at all. People can still contribute via Bitcoin or via credit card directly on Indiegogo and bypass PayPal completely.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Microsoft SubnetsecuritynsaCERNpaypalindiegogoprivacy

More about CERNMITNSAPayPalSwitzerland

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Ms. Smith

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts