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Protect your email the German way


Last summer, German secure email provider Posteo faced a do-or-die moment: give in to police threats to seize its servers or fight back in court. Investigators in the state of Bavaria had contacted the Berlin-based startup because they wanted the identity of a Posteo account holder who was thought to be using the service for illicit purposes. But Patrik and Sabrina Löhr, the husband-and-wife team who run the swiftly growing email provider, told police time and again that they simply couldn’t comply: Posteo is an anonymous email provider; it doesn’t store any data on its customers’ identities.

“We went around in circles with the authorities,” Patrik Löhr says. “But when we looked at their search warrant, we saw that it didn’t, in fact, give them permission to search our whole office. They were only allowed to receive a list of our bank transactions – which they already had gotten from the bank.” Löhr filed a suit against police officials, accusing them of intimidation. That move, the media attention it generated, and a stated commitment to transparency made all the more relevant in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks, has helped Posteo become one of Germany‘s fastest growing email providers with a business model of fee-driven, privacy-oriented email services.

The immediate effect of Posteo’s tangle with the German authorities was the pressure it put on global telecoms giant Deutsche Telekom. Just days after Posteo released Germany’s first transparency report on government requests for information, Telekom dashed out its own paper detailing the extent of its cooperation with police and intelligence officials. The revelations were eye-opening. In 2013 alone, Telekom gave authorities in Germany nearly as much data on its customers as ATT and Verizon had furnished that same year to US law enforcement.

This resulted in Germans ditching American email providers in Posteo’s favour. “We went from 10,000 subscribers before the Snowden leaks a year ago to 70,000 today,” Löhr says.

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