Donald Trump will control the NSA – what this means for your privacy

trump and nsa logo

Earlier this week, Donald Trump won a stunning election victory that will put him in charge of the world’s most powerful mass surveillance infrastructure.

Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you are on, Trump’s control over the NSA is now an indisputable fact, and we think it is worth taking a closer look at what this means. It is important to note that as a Swiss company which benefits from Swiss government support, ProtonMail follows the Swiss policy of neutrality. We do not take any position for or against Trump, nor any position for or against any particular country or government. We believe privacy is an universal value, so we do not take any sides.

However, given America’s significant influence on the world, and the large number of ProtonMail users who come from the US, we are not a disinterested party.  Furthermore, we realise that the implications of a Trump presidency also interest a large proportion of the ProtonMail community, so we are here today to offer our opinion.

How much power over the NSA does Trump have?

Due to the way the US government is structured, President Trump will have a large amount of control over the NSA. The NSA is not different from any other federal agency which the president controls. The US president will be able to dictate how the agency operates through his power to appoint the NSA Director. The NSA Director needs to be confirmed through majority vote by the US Senate, but due to Republican control over the Senate, President Trump will have complete freedom to appoint anyone he wants to carry out his orders.

As a federal agency however, the activities of NSA are governed by federal law, in particular, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. However, with Republican control over both houses of Congress, President Trump would have broad power to rewrite FISA as he sees fit or introduce a new law. Of course, a new law could be subject to court challenge which could eventually work its way up to the US Supreme court, but Trump is also expected to gain control over the Supreme court. Therefore, all things considered, there is no denying that President Trump would have broad powers to re-shape the US surveillance apparatus to serve his agenda.

Should Americans Be Worried?

Since Trump’s victory, the number of new users coming to ProtonMail has doubled compared to the previous week. Many of our new users have voiced a few common concerns both on Twitter and also in emails to us. Given Trump’s campaign rhetoric against journalists, political enemies, immigrants, and Muslims, there is concern that Trump could use the new tools at his disposal to target certain groups. As the NSA currently operates completely out of the public eye with very little legal oversight, all of this could be done in secret.

 

trump protonmail double
ProtonMail new user signups doubled immediately after Trump’s election victory.

It is not Trump’s fault

It is tempting to blame all this on Trump, but that is taking the easy way out. All Trump does is put a new face on the existing privacy problem, so now it concerns a segment of the population that previously didn’t care as much. ProtonMail users have always come from both the left and right side of the political spectrum. Today, we are seeing an influx of liberal users, but ProtonMail has also long been popular with the political right, who were truly worried about big government spying, and the Obama administration having access to their communications. Now the tables have turned.

The same terror the political right has experienced is now being felt in liberal bubbles such as Silicon Valley for the first time. The left is correct to be terrified of a Trump-led NSA snooping on their communications, especially since Silicon Valley giants like Google and Facebook can be forced to spy on users on behalf of Trump’s NSA. However, this precedent was not set by Trump – he hasn’t even taken office yet. The first major incident of a US tech giant being complicit in US government spying actually took place in 2015 under the Obama administration.

Privacy is something we must all champion

One of the problems with having a technological infrastructure that can be abused for mass surveillance purposes, is that governments can and do change, quite regularly in fact. This demonstrates that privacy isn’t just a liberal or conservative issue, it is something that we all need to champion, regardless of our political leanings. This is why ProtonMail is committed to building a safe haven for all people in the world, regardless of nationality, political views, or religious beliefs.

The only way to protect our freedom is to build technologies, such as end-to-end encryption, which cannot be abused for mass surveillance. Governments can change, but the laws of mathematics upon which encryption is based, are much harder to change.

What can you do to protect your privacy rights?

Privacy is a non-partisan issue, and we hope politicians around the world wake up to the fact that privacy is not only essential for democracy, it is also critical for securing the growing digital economy. In the case of encrypted email services such as ProtonMail, you even get better security in addition to the privacy. Privacy is a cause that we should all be able to unify behind, regardless of political beliefs.

In the meantime, there are fortunately a growing number of services which can help to keep government spies out of your communications, so there is no need to worry regardless of who wins the election. For securing your email, ProtonMail offers free encrypted email accounts, although you can support ProtonMail by donating or upgrading to a paid account.

For defending against NSA mass surveillance, we also recommend the Signal messaging app, using a free VPN service such as ProtonVPN, or using an alternative search engine such as duckduckgo.com or qwant.com. But most importantly, spread the word about the dangers of mass surveillance so politicians take note and make protecting our digital rights a priority.

Best Regards,
The ProtonMail Team

For questions and comment, you can reach us at media@protonmail.ch.

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

ProtonMail is supported by community contributions. We don’t serve ads or abuse your privacy. You can support our mission by upgrading to a paid plan or donating.

About the Author

Andy Yen

Andy is the Co-Founder of ProtonMail. He is a long time advocate of privacy rights and has spoken at TED, SXSW, and the Asian Investigative Journalism Conference about online privacy issues. Previously, Andy was a research scientist at CERN and has a PhD in Particle Physics from Harvard University. You can watch his TED talk online to learn more about ProtonMail's mission.

 

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64 comments on “Donald Trump will control the NSA – what this means for your privacy

  • How do you know that you are seeing an influx of liberal users, or that ProtonMail has long been popular with the political right ? You sure realize that this is a rather unnerving statement, coming from an encrypted email provider…

    Also, what do you mean exactly when you say that you benefit from Swiss government support ?

    Reply
    • We can see who is talking about ProtonMail on social media, and that gives us a good clue about who the new users are. We don’t know otherwise as we don’t track our users. ProtonMail is supported by the Swiss Federal Commission for Technology and Innovation (https://www.kti.admin.ch/kti/en/home.html) whose aim is to foster innovation and economic growth in Switzerland. This institutional backing helps us to resist outside interference from say, the US or Russian governments.

      Reply
  • Unbelievable. After 8 years of Obama’s vile, vicious and political DOJ (Loretta “on the tarmac with Hillary’s husbad” Lynch, IRS (Lois Lerner) and Hillary’s “what difference does it make, 4-dead in Benghazi” State Dept for sale you choose to peddle fear at Trump?

    Shame on you Andy and shame on Proton Email. Consider my account closed.

    Reply
    • You missed the point of the article. You also missed the section where it says “It is not Trump’s fault” and the part that says “The first major incident of a US tech giant being complicit in US government spying actually took place in 2015 under the Obama administration.”

      This is not an anti-Trump hit piece, but simply stating facts and arguing that both Democrats and Republicans should have a shared interest in protecting privacy.

      Reply
      • Stand your ground… I agree with what you published in your article and do not think Trump will attempt to try to “control” or move forward things that are already in place… Were you serving as a conduit for furthering terrorist operations, things might proceed differently.

        Certainly, there are some who might be using the service for such nefarious activities… But if you shut down any and all services for which that was true, there would be no email, no web, not internet, etc., etc… And you know Trump can’t do without his Twitter!!!

        ‘Nuff said…

        Reply
      • In this day and age of computers and cyber surveillance,we are increasingly seeing the realization of George Orwell’s 1984 and “Big Brother is watching you.”

        I have been doing a a LOT of research and reading lately,and seeing how paramount security is,a few things are becoming so important:

        1)Dump insecure(mass surveillance) operating systems like Windows and Mac OSX.in favor of OpenBSD.FreeBSD,TrueOS,etc,or at least Linux.
        2)Use a VPN .(see Proton Mail’s blog for tips)to hide your IP address and protect your privacy -especially on public wifi.
        I look forward to Proton’s VPN service.
        btw: What about AirVPN in Italy?
        3)Use a secure email address.Stop using Gmail,Hotmail,and Yahoo,etc.

        It doesn’t matter what your political stripe is,and while on the one hand the election of Trump has shown just how much liberalism is entrenched in the fake main stream media,and while he may be part of the Globalist Regime himself,there are factions within,and that said,if martial law is declared,and with increasing surveillance,the importance of securing one’s life can’t be stressed enough.

        I am an I.T. professional with more than 30 years computer experience who knows what “under the hood” with Windows and everything else.”The time is now.”

        Reply
  • Hillary Clinton is an enemy of privacy as much as any other, privacy was always going to lose regardless of the election result.

    But I would have preferred Clinton won the election, we have thousands of Muslim immigrants here in Europe and I don´t think with Trump we will be able to send them to the USA, if we can´t remove these economic immigrants from Europe it will cost us dearly in resources, I think that Protonmail will be getting less sign ups from the EU as unemployment soars and country budgets fill with deficits in the next years.

    Reply
  • I have the expertise to get around ANY restriction the government puts on encryption, and I will teach others. Everything from Key escrow to crippled algorithms. In the words of the greatest American philosopher: “Go ahead, make my day.”

    Reply
  • One of the reasons why I don’t buy a Protonmail account is the lack of common mail clients support. I don’t know the technical reasons, but Startmail affirms in their website that their service is compatible with mail client software. I haven’t tested it as they don’t offer free accounts to test, but I don’t understand why Startmail can be used in our good old mail clients and Prontonmail can’t. In any case, many users like me NEED a mail cleint because of the amount of time they save, the features no webmail client can provide, and the ease for organizing and searching they bring. Please, try to make PM usable from regular mail clients like Thunderbird; as I said, if Startmail can do it, I don’t understand why you don’t.

    Ah, and, please, as Ladar Levinson warned, don’t recommend services depending on US based companies, like DuckDuckGo; Qwant or Startpage (the latter especially if configured to use only european servers) aren’t under US laws control.

    Reply
    • StartMail doesn’t provide end-to-end encryption, e.g. they can still read your emails.

      We have actually developed a way to support common mail clients over IMAP while preserving end-to-end encryption. This project is approaching completion and we will announce it soon.

      Reply
      • I began to suspect this when I saw client support mentioned in your survey a few weeks ago (it was in a multiple choice list of projects that should be prioritized). Well done guys! This is HUGE news and should be advertized prominently, even before the service is ready for public use. You can expect me to upgrade to a paid account and switch to full-time protonmail use when this is implemented.

        Reply
      • Great news. IMAP support is very important to me. I am migrating my gmail account and my wife’s account to my ProtonMail plus account. The only thing slowing me down was IMAP support.

        Good job.

        Reply
      • This ability will greatly help alleviate the SMALL quota’s you still provide for mailboxes in order to archive mail outside of the mailbox.. 500MB, this cannot be a serious quota in today’s age, and so Protonmail cannot be seen as a long-term storage service. If quota’s were increased (and realistic), you can maintain a higher secure interaction with the mailbox without the need of a client.

        Reply
          • I am familiar with the pricing model, that’s why I am comfortable with my statements. PM currently is overpriced for all paid plans in comparison to others. Visionary plan is just ludicrous in its pricing when you start to include exchange rates. This pricing will only get a small amount of subscribers. Plus plan is also not competitive enough to have PM even feature in final decisions. PM will remain a small player with these, growth will be slow. Some where PM has to take a punch in pricing to grow and meet competitive quota’s to gain numbers. “Swings and Roundabouts” as the saying goes.

      • «StartMail doesn’t provide end-to-end encryption»

        Oh, that’s a very enlightening info they don’t mention on their site… Sure they don’t claim the opposite, but the idea onw gets is that they offer a service as secure as Protonmail. Thanks for clarifying.

        «We have actually developed a way to support common mail clients over IMAP while preserving end-to-end encryption»

        Awesome news! Can’t wait to test it. If it works well you will gain a new paid customer here. 🙂

        Regards

        Reply
  • The NSA Director needs to be confirmed through majority vote by the US Senate, but due to Republican control over the Senate, President Trump will have complete freedom to appoint anyone he wants to carry out his orders.

    Note: This is not technically correct. The Senate is still made up of different individuals who will have different agendas than Trump or the Republican Party as a whole. It may be come to pass than Trump’s nominee will get an easy pass, but there is no guarantee of “complete freedom”.

    Reply
  • So, We, ProtonMail users don’t have to worry about “Big Brother”-like entities/security agencies from the likes of the U.S. or Russia, etc. then?

    Reply
    • Nothing is 100% secure, but due to the end-to-end encryption ProtonMail uses, it’s very very difficult for any outside party to gain access to the communications of ProtonMail users.

      Reply
      • Unless they have already cracked the prime number you use as the basis of your encryption. 😉 One can only hope this hasn’t yet happened.

        Reply
      • I think it is important to continue making the point about encrypted transport and encrypted content. I see too many times that people seem to think all emails (content) are encrypted from the get go with Protonmail. An email is transmitted over encrypted/secure layers but will be plain text at the recipient outside of the Protonmail service wrt content. It is only truly secured when explicitly encrypted as content when selected within protonmail, and each time thereafter when replies continue.

        Reply
    • As all user emails stored by ProtonMail are protected with end-to-end encryption, we only have ciphertext and cannot actually turn over any emails.

      Reply
    • Signal uses Google Cloud Messaging for a wake-up event on your device. The rest of its functionality relies on Signal’s own servers. Earlier, Signal (TextSecure) did rely on Google’s servers for messages but they have upgraded from that using their own servers. Regardless, properly done encryption would still not have been readable by Google although it did provide them with metadata.

      Reply
  • There is something, politically, that you seem to be missing. By European standards, US Democrats are not left-wing and Conservatives are not right: Democrats are right-wing liberals and Republicans are extreme-right. This tendency is also beginning to take over Europe – the Parti Socialiste in France is now firmly liberal and defending the interests of European banks, and so does, in Germany, the CDU, which is increasingly conservative.

    Now, extreme-right means populist and fascist (as, for instance, in Hungary, Holland and Ukraine). Not that the United States have not, in effect, been a neofascist State for a long time, but Trump might bring this to a paroxysm – with all the serious dangers this has when this concerns the most military powerful country on the planet.

    Ultimately, there is a contradiction that the ProtonMail team will have to face, even if it is now trying to remain as broad as possible in order to maintain – and increase – its subscriptions. The notions of democracy and freedom, in particular freedoms to think, to document, and to express one’s thoughts, are completely incompatible with the populist and demagogic leaders in the likes of Trump, and so is the statement that everyone’s equal, regardless of sex, skin color and social status. I also have a difficulty to understand such position coming from scientists… The rise of Trump will be a massive blow to science and education all over the US.

    The neutrality of Switzerland during WWII was a mirage – if the Axis had won, Swiss people would have had to subjugate to the fascist doctrine – the paragon of the exploitation of man by man, the paradise of capitalism. Sometimes, it is better to take a side.

    I think the contradiction is which ProtonMail stands right now is well illustrated by this blog post – the only way for ProtonMail to stay out of political frictions would be to ignore them entirely, as do other mass email-providers. The simple fact that ProtonMail has started its campaign based on an ideal exposes it to criticism and to the changing world.

    You cannot turn back now. How long can you stagger?

    Reply
  • “Given Trump’s campaign rhetoric against journalists, political enemies, immigrants, and Muslims…”

    He is not against all journalists, just the mass media creating extremely biased hit pieces about him and focusing on trivial matters, such as what a man chooses to say in private (I guess it’s wrong to talk of women like a man in the comfort of privacy). Read the leaked Wikileaks emails. The political enemies you speak of are corrupt to the core; not just simply political foes. And when he speaks of immigrants he suggests stronger boarders—and rightly so! He is not anti-Muslim or black, etc. More mass media lies. Another reason alternative media is becoming increasingly popular and dwarfing The New York Times and CNN.

    Reply
  • I’m a target individual who has been targeted by criminals within the government, mainly the military, intelligence agencies and police. They are using a covert psychological harassment program against us that goes by the name of organized stalking or gang stalking. It is used as a revenge program to secretly target members of the public. I hope a email service like ProtonMail can help keep my emails secure from these sinister people.

    Reply
  • Interesting piece! Also nice you add in some options for other systems besides e-mail to switch to.

    You suggest Signal, but, as I want to switch away from the big tech-companies like Google and Facebook as much as possible; I’ve learned Signal requires and uses Google Play Services.

    I’ve found an alternative called “Wire”. Do you know that app and if so: what’s your view / opinion on it?

    Reply
    • Signal uses Google Play Services because it needs a way to get the app to you. And, nearly everyone gets their apps from the play store. To get it by APK file (which Signal has not provided) would require turning on that option to allow apps to be installed from other locations, and that could increase security risk. I do not think it is a credible risk to security to get an app from the play store versus some unofficial channel. The ProtonMail app also comes from the play store.

      Reply
  • Secure e-mail depends on improvement of the browser -torsandbox e.g. and of the kernel too -mac,pax,grc e.g. –
    what do you think about sigaint (nocookies-noscripts) ?
    Encryption depends of mathematics laws and also of the right to use it – does switzerland accept the usage of pgp as a privacy right stronger than a foreign warrant ?
    It is a democracy but i did not read that its neutrality protects snowden – why his demand has been rejected ?
    I am not afraid of the mass surveillance even with Donaldtrump as president ; i know that the point is a racial war & an economic market : do my privacy mean i am the owner of a piece of victory that they do not want share with me (it should explain their aggressive violation clearly) or is it because i have not enough privacy that they are victorious (it should explain clearly their goal) ?

    Reply
  • The good news is, Trump would at least be far better than Hillary when it comes to privacy.

    Hillary is backed by special interests and would very likely further the Obama agenda of online surveillance.

    Trump, on the other hand, is not owned by anyone but the American people, and we the people can influence him and teach him about online privacy.

    I think he wants online security, but naively mentioned online spying. I don’t think his intentions are necessarily bad, just that he’s a troglodyte when it comes to technology.

    Either way, I hope he does a good job and is influenced in the right direction.

    Reply
    • Trump loves my country, the United States and Clinton and Obama are traitors. Work of recent is that Clinton is still on the hot seat for her crimes. Hopefully she will rat on Obama and then hopefully the government can clean house of these misfits.
      Obama sold the U. S. out to other nations especially those of the Islamic world that have this need to kill Americans and Jews.

      Reply
  • Excellent message. I too am very concerned about the republican take over of our government and in particular the President-elect and his non-Congressionally approved immediate staff like Mr. Bannon!

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  • Donald Trump is the new bogeyman. Barack Obama, George (W.) Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton… they are all saints.

    Guess what. The outcome of the elections didn’t matter because the American people had no real choice – it’s called illusion of choice.

    The NSA and all other spy agencies throughout the world will continue spying on the internet in order to control it and, ultimately, destroy it.

    Reply
    • Hello,
      It’s still me please correct the iso code alpha-2 for UKRAINE-UKRAINIAN is not UK but UA, UK is for United Kingdom… lol
      The mistake to correct is in “Language:”
      Thanks

      Reply
  • Greetings,
    The citizens of Switzerland have voted in favor of allowing government bodies to spy on and hack into electronic communications. hmm. I expect over time this will undermine the effectiveness of Protonmail.
    Computing power is on the verge of expanding exponentially. Will this give more people the tools to hack and break encryption that is now considered secure?
    Why not encrypt the data sent on an air-gapped machine, then physically transfer it as a file to be encrypted again and sent via Protonmail?

    Reply
  • Constitutionalists in the US, usually lumped in with the “political right”, do not support these broad-based government spying programs independent of whom is in power at the moment. They understand that abuse of power can occur at any time. It does amuse them, however, to see the supporters of the current administration, who assumed they would always be protected, now running for cover from their own misdeeds.

    Reply
    • Yes, the dems are no doubt shredding all kinds of documents and evidence even today, Feb. 4, 2017. A complete sweep of the government must be done and done quickly to weed out the moles and Anti Constitution thugs, the democratic party, the true fascist and haters of mankind.

      Reply
  • Hello,
    In my opinion pronto mail is the best. I was searching to change my old email for long time.
    Thank you to all of you.
    Sincerely yours,
    Gail

    Reply
  • Great article,
    As a conservative of course I feel more safe with Trump in office. Obama compromised U.S. freedom and security. The article was fare and balanced, job well done. It is possible that Clinton will be prosecuted and hopefully found guilt for murder and other high crimes. Should Trump’s administration press this to it end Obama would be implicated by Clinton to save her own neck. This I hope will happen to put the fear of God into the likes of such U. S. haters who happen to get elected and despise our constitution.

    Reply