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ProtonVPN supports Hong Kong’s right to digital freedom

Posted on May 22nd, 2020 by in Privacy & Security.

Illustration of Hong Kong digital freedom

 

A Chinese language overview of Proton published in Taiwan can be found here: https://www.twreporter.org/a/protonmail-project

Last week, we stood in solidarity with citizens in the US against the reauthorization of the USA Freedom Act. Today we are standing in solidarity with the people of Hong Kong after the Chinese government announced a new security law designed to stifle free speech and peaceful protest.

When the government tried to do this previously — in 2003 and again in 2019 — Hong Kongers (including many Proton users) successfully defeated these measures by taking to the streets. This time it’s different.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no option to congregate in large groups. Moreover, the Chinese government is not working through Hong Kong’s legal system but rather from Beijing. The Chinese National People’s Congress is poised to approve the security law at its annual legislative session, which convened today (May 22).

With physical spaces out of reach, activists must now turn to digital spaces to speak out for democracy and civil liberties. Unfortunately, with the government monitoring all unsecured communications, it can be dangerous to organize and share ideas with others, particularly if the new security decree outlaws “sedition.”

We have previously stood by Hong Kong protesters, including providing encrypted email services for the developers of HKMaps and others. Proton is committed to defending their right to speak out, even when other tech companies take the side of repression and censorship. In fact, we launched ProtonVPN specifically because we saw the need to help activists and journalists access our secure email service, ProtonMail, in case of censorship attempts.

Since then, we have consistently supported independent journalists through educational tools, seminars, scholarships, grants, and free services.

Now people are again turning to our privacy tools to defend freedom: As of Friday, ProtonVPN is the third-most downloaded app in the Apple App Store in Hong Kong, and we have witnessed a 1,000% increase in the amount of traffic to our website.

Proton will continue to defend the right to free speech and privacy by making secure communication available to all who need it, whether in Hong Kong, or anywhere else in the world. Below we outline steps you can take to avoid government surveillance and maintain access to the uncensored Internet.

Use a VPN to secure your communications and online activity

A trustworthy VPN is still the best way to stay safe from government surveillance. China’s security law is expected to mirror the language of the 2003 basic law, which would have prohibited “any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion” against China. Obviously, authorities can use this type of broad language to eliminate political opponents and repress people exercising their right to free speech.

This is why it is imperative to encrypt your Internet connection and use secure methods of communication.

If you’re in Hong Kong, we recommend downloading ProtonVPN for free as soon as possible. 

  1. Download ProtonVPN for your device. (ProtonVPN is also available on F-Droid if you prefer not to use the Google Play Store.)
  2. Set up a free account in the app.

Users with a Free plan can connect to any of our free servers in Japan, the United States, and the Netherlands. By upgrading to a Plus plan, you can also access five servers in Hong Kong (including a Tor over VPN server), 32 servers in Singapore, and nearly 1,000 servers in over 50 countries around the world.

Our servers in Hong Kong could become the target of Chinese surveillance and censorship attempts. Therefore, out of an abundance of caution, we recommend Hong Kongers concerned about their security and privacy connect to our servers in Singapore. They are in the region, which reduces latency to a minimum.

Note: Your Internet service provider (and by extension the government) and the VPN service you use can still see that your IP address was used to connect to VPN, so it is important to pick a trustworthy VPN, that has strong values and integrity, even in the face of government pressure.

We say “as soon as possible” because authoritarian governments can and do take measures to block people from getting VPNs in the first place. ProtonVPN has some systems in place to bypass these sorts of blocks, including our Alternative Routing feature. But authorities can still make it hard to download VPN apps after restrictions kick in. VPN services themselves, while more difficult to block, can also be blocked so it is good to also have Tor installed as a backup.

To install Tor, go to the Tor project website and download the Tor browser. In the event Chinese or Hong Kong authorities attempt to ban Tor, as a last resort you can use Tor Bridges to circumvent that censorship. Guides for using Tor Bridge can be found online here and here.

Use encrypted email for secure communication

End-to-end encryption (E2EE) is considered the gold standard for secure communication. ProtonMail is the world’s largest private email provider offering this type of strong encryption. With E2EE, messages are only accessible on your device and the device of your recipient. Neither ProtonMail nor any other party monitoring the network can access your messages. ProtonMail, like ProtonVPN, is based in Switzerland and therefore protected by some of the world’s strongest privacy and human rights laws. 

Note: When using ProtonMail for very sensitive communications, we recommend that both the sender and the recipient use ProtonMail (it’s free). We also recommend putting the most sensitive information in the message body and not the subject line.

Here’s how to get started with ProtonMail and configure some basic extra security settings:

  1. Go to protonmail.com and create an account.
  2. Download ProtonMail for iOS or Android.
  3. Enable two-factor authentication
  4. If you use iOS, enable the AppKey Protection System by enabling PIN, TouchID, or FaceID.

As with ProtonVPN, it is possible for ProtonMail itself to be blocked. For this, we offer our email service over Tor. Learn how to connect to our Tor hidden service.

Going forward

We’ll continue to support the Proton community in Hong Kong and elsewhere. We are already monitoring the current usage levels of ProtonVPN, and we will take actions as necessary to unblock servers and expand bandwidth.

We created ProtonVPN and ProtonMail to defend fundamental rights: democracy, privacy, and freedom of speech. The citizens of Hong Kong deserve the same freedom to exercise these rights as anyone else in the world. Proton has an office in Taiwan so we feel great solidarity with our users in Hong Kong, and a duty to help uphold our shared values.

We’re grateful to our community for supporting Proton and our mission. We will keep supporting you too.

Best Regards,
The Proton Team

Ben Wolford is a writer at Proton. A journalist for many years, Ben joined Proton to help lead the fight for data privacy.

Post Comment

45 comments

  1. DPB

    What I wonder is how you will know, and how I might know, if your Hong Kong servers cease to be secure. My understanding is that China’s new law permits them to require access to any server and any network traffic on their territory.

    Thanks. I’ve been most happy with your service to date.

  2. ProtonBasic & Secure Core servers

    Great article. However, you didn’t mention the badic and secure core servers which can make it substantially more challenging to monitor and censor VPN traffic. Please update this article and make it clearer when it comes to the threat model that a VPN can protect against and the Secure Core. These aspects are crucial for journalists and people looking to protect their freedoms online. https://protonvpn.com/blog/threat-model/ https://protonvpn.com/support/secure-core-vpn/ Thank you.

  3. Peter

    @Ninell
    At least black people can say “I can’t breathe”, white drunken homeless can’t even say a word when Anglo America’s capitalist regime sends firing squads to summarily execute them in the streets.
    Don’t want to spam this forum, but if you’re curious, search for “White Homeless Man Executed By Four Police Officers At Bus Stop” and you’ll know the case of Roger Schafer.

    Ah, “The land of the free and the home of the brave” that western companies consider so liberty and human rights friendly, not like evil Cuba, Iran, China… which represses those nice guys that “just” want Hong Kong to keep being a western capitalist colony -did anyone see flags of Hong Kong in the protests? I just saw american and british ones… Any doubt about who pulls the strings?-.
    Do you remember those neo-nazis in Ukraine demanding “freedom” few years ago, or those conservative snipers shooting workers and students in Caracas “for freedom and democracy”?

    There’s that rumor about Protonmail/VPN being controlled by the US gov. Maybe it’s just “conspiranoic” but since I haven’t read anything supporting the natives in the invaded territories of Palestine, or the old spanish Sahara people, invaded by the good friend of the USA, Morocco, or the kurds oppressed and prosecuted by Turkey, nor any other movement which isn’t suspiciously favorable to the capitalist west and its interests, I thin Protonmail/VPN must be put under suspect.

    Ok, I don’t know why I’ve taken the time to write this reply. Surely the forum’s admins will censor it and you’ll never read it, LOL. Bah. Whatever…

  4. 刘磊

    Well, I admit that there are loopholes in certain actions of the Chinese government, but mobs in Hong Kong, China, destroyed public buildings and injured innocent civilians in Hong Kong, China. You call this “peaceful protest”. I don’t think you need to make money like this! ! ! Subvert my understanding of your products!

  5. HKers

    Free Hong Kong
    Revolution of the time

  6. Jenny Woo

    Thanks for your support ❤️❤️❤️ with the Hongkongers who would like to stand up for the values in term of humanity.
    Human being are born should be free, free being honest, free being from any suppression!
    Free means free!

  7. Jay

    Thank you so much.

  8. Chanson de Roland

    Dear Proton AG: It is great that you are helping Hong Kongers’ struggle for free expression. You adding OpenVPN to all of the major platforms, especially mobile platforms, came just in time, because the Chinese government can easily block IKEv2, because it uses UDP, whereas, as you know, OpenVPN is much more difficult to block.

    However, there is a more important issue about one of the links that you recommend, supra, for instructions on how to configure TOR bridges. The United States’ DOJ and the EU have siezed https://www.deepdotweb.com/2016/12/21/pluggable-transports-tor-dodging-censorship/, as a malware sight. So you might want to reconsider recommending it to your readers as a place to get instructions for configuring TOR bridges.

    In any event, law enforcement has seized the https://www.deepdotweb.com website so you cannot reach it in any event. There may also be some concern that the DOJ seized deepdotweb.com for concerns that are even more serious than malware. The U.S Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania was the U.S. Attorney who seized deepdotweb.com, and though that U.S. Attorney is the office that often seizes malware website, it also acts against websites operating in the U.S. that are foreign espionage websites, for example, seizing deepdotweb.com if it were a foreign government’s website that facilitated downloading apps or plugins that allowed that government to spy on users, who tried to configure TOR bridges.

  9. tom

    Freedom and privacy are fundamental human rights. Why not for Palestine?
    Tell the israel gov’t that their oppression of pakestine and the Palestinian people violates their fundamental human rights of freedom and privacy. Palestinian people have no freedom and privacy from israel. Palestinian people ‘live’ like prisoners in a supermax prison with israel the prison guards. Support Palestine. Stand with Palestine against an aggressor and oppressor, such as israel. Voice your support, say NO more to israel stealing more land from Palestine in the name of ‘annexation’.

  10. NineII

    Really sucks. Do you know Hk belongs to China? To be frank, You only want to make money by political issues, with ignoring the mob’s atrocities. Can the mob’s behavior represent human rights? You just made selective views that were beneficial to you. Maybe this is the common busniess strategy of American capitalism, just pay more attention to your black people resistance movement,ok? They can’t breathe.

  11. D

    Thank you for standing with the people in HonG Kong

  12. Ng wai lok

    Good

  13. Nora

    It is really touching to have your support in such a hard time. I start to have VPN you wrote after the law have implemented. When it is sad, the world show me a window. As a Hong Kongers, thanks for ProtonVPN team. You guys are professional and trust worthy.

  14. Andrew

    Fight for freedom,
    Stand with Hong Kong.

  15. Richie Koch

    Freedom and privacy are fundamental human rights. Creating tools that could defend them was the motivation to start Proton in the first place.

  16. Samuel Chan

    Thank you for standing with Hong Kong People.

  17. Richie Koch

    No need to thank us Samuel, Hong Kongers should have the ability to exercise their fundamental human rights, same as anyone else. We developed Proton to help people in precisely this situation. We will always stand on the side of freedom and privacy.

  18. Windy Lee

    Thank you so much
    We love All Taiwan

  19. Hongkonger

    Fight for freedom
    Stand with HongKong

  20. FK Tsang

    Thank you for your support for HK.

  21. Kylie Yan

    HongKonger

  22. Roy Chau

    Thanks for supporting Hongkongers!

  23. Jone chung

    Good

  24. Pun Nam Or

    Stand with HK

  25. Vito Chung

    Thanks for supporting HongKonger

  26. Ho Ho Yin

    Thanks for supporting HK democracy , China government is such a devil!

  27. 余润

    非常好,感谢

  28. 余润

    非常好。感谢

  29. Naito

    Thank

  30. Ng, Yung-yu

    human right

  31. Niki

    Dear Protonvpn,
    Thanks for allowing us to have a free VPN. I am a Hong Kong citizen, but I am studying abroad in Australia now. I am worried about if I go back to Hong Kong without a good VPN so that I cannot use a secure website for my school or social media. Am I able to get free VPN to meet My need, please? If you do so, it will be appreciated. Thankfulness.

  32. Ben Wolford

    Thank you, Niki! Yes, you can download ProtonVPN for free here: https://protonvpn.com/download

  33. Jeff

    Disgusting. You call a riot that killed innocent people a “peaceful protest”? You’re a company that publicly and explicitly backs up anti-humanity activities.

  34. Ben Wolford

    Hi Jeff, we do not condone violence, and we never said we do. Proton’s mission is simple: expand access to privacy, security, and freedom. We support the right to freely and peacefully express ideas.

  35. Cheung Tina

    Thank you ProtonVPN for the support HK freedom!

  36. Lee ChungYin

    fight for freedom stand with hong kong

  37. kaming

    free hong kong

  38. Stand with HK

    Five demands, not one less

  39. Ben

    It is a message from Hong Konger
    Thank you so much for your kindly help
    May the light be with you 願榮光與你同在
    safe life always give to nice people 好人一生平安
    I wish you and your company will have a great development and without any troubles 😊

  40. Jason Tse

    I really appreciate that your compay support our hong kong citizens.

  41. jenny

    To Proton VPN :
    Thank you very much for supporting Hong Kong,I will definitely share this useful VPN apps to my family and friends.
    THANKS A LOT
    from a little hong konger

  42. Kinnie

    We’re appreciated your great help in this critical moment.
    Sincerely thanks
    HongKonger

  43. Shieky Luk

    Thank you very much for standing with us. I bought the 2yrs Plus plan yesterday, and I’m so proud to be a Proton customer.

  44. Ben Wolford

    Thank you, Shieky!

  45. Nisha

    Thank you for providing excellent VPN sevices and standing with Hong Kong. We truly appreciate it and we will continue to fight for our rights.

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