Telegram hit with block in Russia over encryption

A Russian court has ordered a block on access to the Telegram messaging app — with the block coming into force immediately, according to the BBC.

The messaging platform has been under pressure to hand over encryption keys to Russian authorities so they can access user data — which they claim is needed for counterterrorism purposes — but has so far refused.

However late last month Telegram lost a bid before the Supreme Court to block security services from getting access to users’ data, though it said it planned to appeal.

The court gave it 15 days to hand over the encryption keys. Again it refused. So last week Russia’s state communication watchdog filed a lawsuit to limit access to the service — and a court in Moscow has now granted the block.

In a tweet responding to the news, founder Pavel Durov wrote: “Privacy is not for sale, and human rights should not be compromised out of fear or greed.”

Durov is himself Russian but has lived in exile since 2014 after claiming he’d been forced to hand control of his former social networking company, vk, to allies of Russian president Vladimir Putin — also as a result of refusing to hand user data to authorities.

In a longer post on his Telegram channel today, Durov adds: “The power that local governments have over IT corporations is based on money. At any given moment, a government can crash their stocks by threatening to block revenue streams from its markets and thus force these companies to do strange things (remember how last year Apple moved iCloud servers to China).

“At Telegram, we have the luxury of not caring about revenue streams or ad sales. Privacy is not for sale, and human rights should not be compromised out of fear or greed.”

Telegram’s service has faced temporary blocks in Iran — over content being spread on the platform that the regime dislikes. Last summer the Indonesian government also used blocks to wring content-related concessions out of Telegram.

But it remains to be seen whether the company will agree to any concessions to get the Russian block removed. Durov’s first response suggests it has no intention of backing down over encryption.

Telegram’s lawyer, Pavel Chikov, has also described the move by the Russian authorities as “unconstitutional” — and claimed it “cannot be fulfilled technically and legally”.

Meanwhile, the messaging platform announced last month it now has more than 200 million monthly active users globally.

And while Durov claims not to care about money he is in the midst of a billion dollar ICO, raising money via a token sale to develop a crypto currency and blockchain platform.

Reuters suggests some Russians will seek to circumvent the block via the use of VPN technology.