Internet Censorship – Why it matters and what we’re doing about it

March 12, 2017 is World Day Against Cyber Censorship (WDACC). Originally created by Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International in 2008, the day seeks to draw attention to the issue of Internet censorship.

If you logged into your ProtonMail account on Friday, you may have noticed that our login page is slightly different, with a new banner at the top. In commemoration of World Day Against Cyber Censorship, we have teamed up with Amnesty International to raise awareness about Cyber Censorship.

The Internet is a space that encourages freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas. This potent combination has driven the technological revolution which has changed our world in the past 20 years. Unfortunately, for over 1.5 billion people around the world, the Internet does not live up to its promise of freedom of information. Instead, the Internet is a highly restricted and censored place, constantly under surveillance, where making a wrong move could lead to imprisonment or worse.

What is online censorship and why should we care?

Internet censorship comes in many forms, but at its core, the objective of Internet censorship is to obfuscate information and hide certain truths. This is done both subtly (like carefully fine tuning search results to encourage a certain narrative), and also not so subtly (such as shutting down the entire Internet). The end result is the same however – free flow of information is disrupted.

At ProtonMail we are strong supporters of a free and open Internet without censorship and mass surveillance. This is one of our core guiding principles, and one of the reasons we created ProtonMail in the first place. As former scientists who met while working at CERN, we have experienced first hand the important role that the free flow of information plays in both scientific discovery and creativity. It was for this reason that the world wide web was first created at CERN in 1989. Without the free flow of information and the sharing of ideas that the Internet fosters, mankind on a whole suffers, because over 1 billion people are deprived of the right to all available knowledge, hindering progress and innovation.

My internet isn’t censored, so why should I care?

Internet censorship is often associated with totalitarian regimes or certain third world countries, but it is actually closer than a lot of us realise. Even in the West, there is heated debate about net neutrality, which is the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. At ProtonMail, we are strong proponents of net neutrality, because if left unchecked, slowly chipping away at net neutrality does in fact lead directly to a censored Internet.

There is also self-imposed Internet censorship. With the rise of targeted advertising, big data analysis, and personalized search, large internet companies such as Google and Facebook are in fact presenting you a censored version of the internet, that has been specifically “tailored” to your tastes. The idea being that a more personalized internet would be more appealing, and will lead to more clicks, more page views, and ultimately more advertising revenue.

This leads to the creation of dangerous “filter bubbles“, which cause increased polarization in society as we become less and less exposed to dissenting views and opinions. Ultimately, the moves by Google and Facebook to personalize search and news feed results is a form of censorship, and a particularly dangerous one as it discourages the public discourse that is necessary to have a functioning civic society.

What is ProtonMail doing to fight Internet censorship?

Ending online censorship is an important issue for us, not only because we believe a free internet is important, but also because ProtonMail can be censored at any moment, depriving millions around the world of their right to email privacy. This is not without precedent: in December 2016, the Egyptian government blocked access to the encrypted messaging app Signal. An attempt was also made to silence ProtonMail in 2015 via a massive distributed denial of service attack.

Journalists, activists and business and everyday people use ProtonMail as a secure communication tool, so maintaining a free and open Internet, where such tools are readily available, is of paramount importance. Thus, we feel it is important to use World Day Against Cyber Censorship to raise awareness about this issue, and to bring online censorship back to the forefront of public attention.

On the technological front, we’re working hard also to ensure that ProtonMail itself stays resistant to censorship attempts. In January we launched a Tor hidden website to help ensure that ProtonMail remains accessible via Tor even if attempts are made to block access to our website. We are also working on building the world’s best VPN service to provide secure and uncensored Internet access from anywhere in the world. Together with the support of the ProtonMail user community, we are on the path towards building an Internet that can reach its full potential.

Best Regards,
The ProtonMail Team

ProtonMail is funded by community contributions. If you would like to support our development efforts, you can upgrade to a paid plan or donate. Thank you for your support!

You can get a free secure email account from ProtonMail here.

Press release by Amnesty International about WDACC can be found here:

About the Author

Proton Team

Proton was founded by scientists who met at CERN and had the idea that an internet where privacy is the default is essential to preserving freedom. Our team of developers, engineers, and designers from all over the world is working to provide you with secure ways to be in control of your online data.


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27 comments on “Internet Censorship – Why it matters and what we’re doing about it

  • You lead the resistance. I bet that wasn’t in the gameplan when this thing was in crowd-funding stages. It must be a scary and humbling burden.

    Also… Thanks. I’m happy I can sign with this email address. Whoever you are.

    • It is indeed, but together with the ProtonMail community, we’re making real progress everyday, and it’s incredible to see that we’re changing the world.

  • Censoring the net is also a freedom of speech from the dark side : without information and different point of view you cannot bring argument, another solution, refuse false assertions/evidence, propose another way to manage and live your own life … only one truth , the official words , (i thank you the president of turkey for his open mind about this subject) … it is not a religious matter and not an intellectual vision : it is real , censoring the net is the short way to not be able in a near future to be a person with an identity & a personality.
    The censorship is not a struggle for sharing or not that is written on a wiki or search with the help of a large database ; it means that the human being is becoming an empty object that an unknown fill up with the color & the ink of his choice.
    Against censorship ?
    It is up to you !

  • hello proton-mail team ,

    as a user we are glad to know that your company fight back on Internet censorship ? .

    and i think all of u know that your project Proton-mail ,how much important for public to safe their communication , and behalf of your user , u guys deserve a great salute . Do u have any plan to develop the method where we can exchange email with non proton-mail user sharing their PGP , or PGP finger print …

    have nice day boys … keep going

  • I applaud ProtonMail and any who fight the growing threat of censorship and destruction of privacy rights. Unfortunately, Amnesty International is among the many organizations and governments that are working to destroy national borders and sovereignty. The relentless tendency seems to be destruction of a nation’s right to self-determination to further the end-goal of a one world government. A globally encompassing government could enable unfathomable censorship, as there would be nowhere to escape to. Those who call this charge “conspiracy” should investigate the funding and leadership of Amnesty International. (An enlightening article is posted below.) George Soros and the U.S. Federal Government are hardly icons of internet freedom.

    This is a very contentious issue, and I do not expect everyone to agree. However, I DO expect you to understand that my concern is primary among the viewpoints that are actually being censored. If ProtonMail is to be intellectually honest, they should consider that Amnesty International is no defender of “human rights”.

    Amnesty International is US State Department Propaganda

    • Inded, Amesty International is a very politicized organization with a determined political agenda.

      It’s against only certain kind of repression and censorship that they are active.

      The farcical Nuremberg trials, which were nothing more than victor’s justice (e.g. Katyn done by soviets, attributed to germans), are considered as a “triumph of the rule of law” by Amnesty International.

      Amnesty International has never lifted a finger to protect those it disagree with.

      According to their own website, “Governments have an obligation to prohibit hate speech”. That is, speech which opposes the current mainstream.

      One can say that free speech is a stupid idea and defend censorship ; but posing as a free speech champion while promoting laws against “hate speech” is of the uttermost hypocrisy. ProtonMail should disengages from any association with such an organization.

    • We understand that Amnesty International is not without controversy and perhaps not fully independent. Doing something for WDACC should not be viewed as a blanket endorsement of Amnesty International. However, promoting WDACC helps to build awareness for both Internet censorship and the work that the ProtonMail community is doing.

  • I am glad there still is people out there that takes privacy and net neutrality serious.
    There will always be both political and commercial attempts to destroy the internet.

    Wish you all good luck!

  • I pay for your service. If we need to use email it should be done right. Thanks for your efforts!

  • Amnesty International is definitely a CIA front. They are trying to help with regime change in Syria with their Sadnaya prison propaganda, for example.

    However, I do NOT endorse or want to be associated with the Nazis who have previously commented up here with their hateful and ridiculous right-wing conspiracy theories about one world government; that’s just anti-communist drivel in slightly new packaging.

    • I have access thanks to my Visionary plan. It’s already working quite well. If you have the money you could get Visionary for a month or two until they release it for more users.

  • The more you will be on the right side the more you will change the world ; a world without Cyber Censorship.

    [I do not understand the reason why so many posters are angry against Amnesty International. Maybe their label are confusing happy mind and they think that they are the ambassadors of the species ‘human being’ or a special court driving all over the world arresting the bad & saving the good ; they are not special agent and not at all the angel of the Vatican/the soldiers of god, not a protection against bad treatment, injustice or misery/the American Red Cross. Their morality are unknown and their principles obscures ; the mission of amnesty international is undefined : it sounds that they recollect information and nothing else , a corrupted sect ? Maybe.
    * pls, who will refuse a job of the cia for 100000/year ?

    • >pls, who will refuse a job of the cia for 100000/year ?

      If this is how people are thinking nowadays then that’s sad. You shouldn’t do something you deem morally wrong yourself just because you get money from doing it. And if the CIA is offering you a job the most of the time you’re in a financial position where your life doesn’t depend on it.

      • World Day Against Cyber Censorship : In the context, it means that Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International (originally created by themselves)
        could be corrupted by the cia ; so how much do they earn ?

  • There is another form of Internet censorship in US the West and the rest of the world that are not mentioned in the post, the war against the Islamic State is heavily censored and one sided one the web, TV, Radio, Cable, newspapers etc..

    In the history of the world it never happened that all world governments joined forces in censoring information about a war. The only thing people get are from media organizations that lie and broadcast the propaganda of the US government and its allies. The Islamic State supporters accounts are being censored on Twitter facebook Youtube and every website in order not to tell the truth.

    If you are speaking about frees peech why Islamic State supporters speech are censored? where is the claim of free speech? US government says because they support terrorism! if that was the case what is terrorism in the first place? if it is killing civilians, then the US and its 68 countries coalition are the biggest terrorist they are deliberate killing civilians in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somlia, Yemen, Afghansitan, Pakistan, Palestine Egypt. targeting hospital, Masjeds, schools, Bakeries , bridges, residential buildings, water supplies, electricity grids killing women and children and then talk that they are fighting terrorism! and the US started the war against IS in the 1st place.

    Do you know how much civilians the US and its allies killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria since 1991
    4 million people. 1 million children died because of the US forced sanctions against Iraq that prevented medicine to come from 1991 to 2003. 2 million in Iraq and Afghanistan since US invasion of both countries. and 1 million because of carpet bombing of US supported Assad regime in Syria. – do not believe Obama lies that US supports opposition against Assad, he did support some of them which was a plot in order to make them spies for America and fight the Islamic State thus destroying the revolution by creating an inner fighting from within and now they are the syrian opposition are joining forces with Russia and Syria botcher Assad as pre planned by US. and Trump is speaking publicly that he would support Assad, In fact US warplanes are providing air cover to Assad and Russia in the fight against IS now in Palymor.

    So the terrorism excuse to censor Islamic State supporters has not ground at all! free speech means any speech whether you like it or not.

    And why the civilian casualties videos of US bombing are deleted in YouTube and every website and no media reports about them! are young children and babies terrorist too!

    Not just that the only news organization that operates in the Islamism State territories Amaq Agnecy which is an objective news agency that tells the truth without bias has been censored on all social media sites and on telegram, and even in all websites. whenever they have a new domain and a new website they take down the domain and bring down the site down!

    to give you more, Twitter facebook are also censoring accounts that expose the corruption and lies of Arab regimes such as the puppet of the US the Saudi regime and others even though they do not tweet support for the Islamic State.

    Hypocrisy is eating the West. injustice

    It is a plot against Islam and Muslims and it is the times the prophet Mohammad Peace be up on him warned about as he said ” there will be times that will pass on people that are tricky years, where the lier is called honest and the honest is called Lier, entrusted the traitor, and called traitor the custodian, and Ruwibeda speaks? they asked and what is the Ruwibeda? he said: Whippersnapper ” or the silly ” person speaks in the matter of the public”.

  • Amnesty International is the enemy of free speech. Their sole purpose is to create an illusion of an organization that supports human rights, but what they really do is create attacks against governments they don’t like, while protecting oppressive governments whom they favor.

    Consequently, human rights abuses, including silencing of dissent and prosecution of activists by regimes they support are deliberately ignored, so as to create an illusion that there is nothing to protect in those countries.

    There are dozens of bloggers, independent journalists and activists prosecuted by the Canadian regime for having the wrong opinion, and AI was made aware of it, and was requested multiple times to advocate, but refused. Exposing the oppression in Canada goes against their mandate and their goal to make the world believe freedom of expression exists in Canada.

    Meanwhile, anti apartheid activists and bloggers like Mark Marek, Arthur Topham, Denis Rancourt and others are witchhunted, imprisoned in maximum security prisons, tortured, smeared in the media with lies, threatened with death is they continue publishing, forced into prior restraint, and driven into bankruptcy simply because their opinion is not in line with the opinion expected by the regime.

    It’s time to support actual free speech. not organizations that seek to demonize select countries, while protecting chosen countries form being exposed for hell holes for bloggers and activists that they are.

  • Protonmail join Amnesty International to fight againts internet censorship. This is something what I feel realy disturbing. Amnesty International is hand of globalists and fact that Protonmail joins them doing from this privacy email provider infiltrated company. If you want to know who infiltrated Protonmail, just follow money flow. Who is financing Amnesty International is public secret and I am sure that Protonmail know it. So there is a question. Did protonmail sold feel of people (protonmail users) privacy to Soros and his sick friends? Or just realy did this stupid advertise of protonmail service? Because for some people, and I am one of them, protonmail now became not secure.

  • Thank you for such an excellent email service, for privacy and for promoting Liberty in the face of social media monsters of hypocrisy, Facecrook, Critter, Instascam, Youstooge, Goggles- (of skewed algorithms.) I was losing interest in most things tech, the world has changed in computers and online, without Companies such as yours, the corporate social media companies will destroy the internet.