Message app Telegram blocked by court in Russia

Ruling comes after it refuses state security services access to private conversations

MOSCOW • A court in Russia ruled yesterday to block the popular messaging app Telegram in the country, after it refused to give state security services access to private conversations.

The ruling follows a long-running battle between the Russian authorities and Telegram, which has a reputation for secure communications, as Moscow pushes to increase surveillance of Internet activities.

The Roskomnadzor telecoms watchdog, which brought the case, had earlier demanded that the service be blocked as soon as the verdict was announced.

The app's creator Pavel Durov banned lawyers representing Telegram from attending the court hearing in Moscow so as not to legitimise it.

But Mr Pavel Chikov, who leads a group of human rights lawyers representing the app, said the case had proved the efficacy of the service.

That the authorities had brought the case showed that "Telegram is by far the safest messenger", he said in comments published on the platform.

He said hundreds of thousands of Russian users are forced "to study proxies and VPNs (virtual private networks)" in an attempt to circumnavigate a potential ban.

Mr Durov, Telegram's self-exiled Russian founder, has long said he will reject any attempt by the country's security services to gain backdoor access to the app.

On his page in the VK social network yesterday, Mr Durov said the app will use built-in systems to circumnavigate the ban in Russia. He added, however, that he still cannot guarantee that Telegram users will retain access to the messenger without using VPNs.

The free application, which lets people exchange messages, photos and videos in groups of up to 5,000 people, has attracted more than 200 million users since its launch in 2013.

Telegram is especially popular among political activists of all stripes, and is also used by the Kremlin to communicate with journalists. However, it has also been used by Islamists.

In September last year, the FSB security service demanded encryption keys, Mr Durov said, prompting a formal complaint when the request was rejected.

Mr Durov wrote last year that the FSB's demands were "technically impossible to carry out" and violated the Russian Constitution which entitles citizens to privacy of correspondence.

Roskomnadzor had threatened to ban the app in June last year for failing to join its official register, which requires companies to provide the FSB with information on user interactions.

Although Telegram later registered, it stopped short of agreeing to the regulator's data storage demands.

From this year, companies on the register must also store all the data of Russian users inside the country, according to controversial anti-terror legislation passed in 2016 which was decried by Internet companies and the opposition.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2018, with the headline 'Message app Telegram blocked by court in Russia'. Print Edition | Subscribe