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  • Khushboo Pareek

Indian IT Ministry seeks to block Proton Mail over 'untraceable' bomb hoax



The Indian Ministry of Information Technology is seeking to block Proton Mail, a Switzerland-based end-to-end encrypted email service, in response to a bomb hoax targeting several private schools in Chennai on February 8.


The decision came at a request from the Tamil Nadu Police and was made during a meeting of the 69A blocking committee on Wednesday, reported Hindustan Times.


The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has not yet received the final order to block the website. However, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has brought the matter to the attention of the DoT.


According to Section 69A of the IT Act, a designated officer, with approval from the IT Secretary and based on recommendations from the 69A blocking committee, has the authority to issue orders to intermediaries or government agencies to block content for reasons related to national security, public order, and similar concerns.


At the meeting, the Tamil Nadu government's representative, the nodal officer, reported that a bomb threat was sent to several schools through Proton Mail. Despite efforts by the police to trace the sender's IP address, they were unsuccessful.


Attempts to seek assistance from Interpol did not yield any result either, according to the nodal officer.


In the meeting, representatives from MeitY highlighted that obtaining information from Proton Mail regarding other criminal matters, which may not be directly associated with Section 69A issues, is consistently challenging.


Proton over the years has emerged as an alternative to other popular services like Gmail or Outlook among journalists and activists because of its robust privacy credentials.


Proton Mail acknowledged that it had received a notice from MeitY about "a possible block" in an email response to HT.


"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," Proton Mail said.

 

It also explained that under Swiss law, "Proton cannot answer directly to foreign law enforcement authorities." However, "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 Mail received the request from MeitY "a few days ago" and added, "We are currently working to resolve this situation and are investigating how we can best work together with the Indian authorities to do so."


Even though Proton Mail, a private firm, offers end-to-end encryption, ensuring that only the sender and recipient can view email content, its privacy policy discloses that due to the SMTP protocol, specific email metadata remains accessible to the company.


This metadata includes sender and recipient email addresses, the IP address of incoming messages, attachment names, message subjects, and sent/received timestamp.

 

 

 

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