Court Orders Telegram Messenger App to be Blocked in Russia

News and Analysis

Moscow court ordered Telegram messenger app to be blocked in Russia after failing to give the country’s Secret Service (FSB) decryption keys to access users’ messages. Telegram argues this would violate users’ privacy and that the codes constantly change.

In its court filing, media regulator Roskomnadzor had said Telegram had failed to comply with its legal requirements as a “distributor of information”.

Telegram’s lawyer, Pavel Chikov, said the official attempt to stop the app being used in Russia was “groundless”.

In a statement, he said:

“The FSB’s requirements to provide access to private conversations of users are unconstitutional, baseless, which cannot be fulfilled technically and legally.”

The messaging app is widely used in many countries, and claims to have more than 200 million active users.

Telegram was created by Nikolai and Pavel Durov, who refused to provide the government with encryption keys, or an equivalent backdoor. Providing such a backdoor would have allowed the Russian state to have monitored every text or call using Telegram, possibly in real-time, by users in Russia and abroad.

“By attempting to block the Telegram messaging app, the Russian authorities are launching the latest in a series of attacks on online freedom of expression in the country,” , Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Denis Krivosheev, said ahead of today’s court hearing.

Telegram founder and CEO Pavel Durov has not commented publicly about the ban yet, but according to earlier reports he withdrew his lawyers from today’s hearing after the court appointed it 24 hours in advance without warning.

In June 2017, Roskomnadzor asked Telegram to comply with legislation obliging all data providers to register in Russia and to turn over its encryption keys to the FSB.

While the request to register the company was met, Telegram founder Pavel Durov has refused to abide by what he has described as “laws incompatible with the Telegram privacy policy.”

As opinioned by Broderick Perelli-Harris of The Hill, while Telegram is on the firing line right now, WhatsApp, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Viber and other companies are all in the sights of the Kremlin as well. Telegram was likely selected as it is smaller, possibly an easier target and heavily used by opposition parties. If the Russian government can either block the app entirely or force Telegram to hand over decrypted messages, it will send a clear message to the bigger operators.

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