ProtonMail is a secure email provider. The Russian invasion of Ukraine forced them to ask: what does defending freedom mean in wartime?

By Charles Lenchner

One of my email accounts is with Proton, a Swiss company that offers consumer internet security services. Because they are based in Switzerland, it would be harder for other governments to secretly pressure the Swiss authorities to order the company to grant access to security services. (“Harder” =/= “Impossible”)

Yesterday they announced that anyone in Ukraine who couldn’t pay for their services only had to ask, and the company would waive the fees, indefinitely. This is commendable behavior, and it falls in line with a general worldwide wave of empathy and support for the Ukranian people as they resist the Russian invasion. What I read next was a surprise.

protonmail phone app on table

ProtonMail, the corporation, asked the question: what about our customers in Russia?

Many companies have announced they will no longer serve Russian customers. Proton’s mission, however, is to defend online freedom everywhere. We remain committed to ensuring the free flow of information in Russia for as long as possible, and we will renew Proton subscriptions for people in Russia if they expire due to the financial sanctions. If you are impacted, don’t hesitate to contact us through our support channels for assistance.

The wave of hostility to the Russian government and leadership is well earned. For far too many, this extends to a knee-jerk reaction to demonize the Russian people. After all, don’t polls conducted in Russia post-invasion show a large majority in favor of the war? (68%) Sure that’s what we do here in the United States, we immediately impose the good/bad binary on regular people, far away. Then we realize those people are here too, and let the hate crimes begin. (That said, a more accurate reflection of Russian support for the war is 53%.)

They write: “Proton’s mission […] is to defend online freedom everywhere.” This is what good global corporate citizenship looks like. Companies, like people, have values. We can infer those values from their behavior even if they don’t brag about it.

The war has provoked an orgy of war-fever from arms manufacturers, the corporate media, and just plain folks who aren’t as afraid of Armageddon as I am. Good for Proton for standing up for values that matter.

And to anyone in Russia reading this: I see you. I see the millions trying to stop this war. I see millions more deluded into supporting it. When this nightmare ends, let us be friends and make sure something like this never happens again.