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Russia Turns Screws on Popular Messaging App

Saying user messages are sacrosanct, Telegram is refusing to give the authorities back-door access to accounts.

10 April 2018

Russia is seeking to limit access to Telegram, a messaging app much used by Kremlin insiders, saying it could provide a platform for terrorists.

 

In a suit filed at a Moscow court Friday, the communications watchdog Roskomnadzor said Telegram had refused to give the FSB intelligence service keys to decode users’ messages, in violation of legal obligations, Reuters reports.

 

A lawyer for Telegram, Ramil Akhmetgalieyev, said the demand is “technically impossible,” according to The Independent. As Meduza writes, Telegram claims messages are secure because encryption keys are stored on users’ own devices, putting them out of reach of hackers or governments.

 

Telegram was fined 800,000 rubles ($14,000) in December for failing to comply with strict anti-terrorism laws that took effect in 2016.

 

The service is popular in the Kremlin, The Independent writes, where it is used almost like an in-house message board. On Friday Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “we use it, it’s very convenient, but the law is the law and we might have to look at different options.”

 

Telegram founder Pavel Durov has a history with the Kremlin. In 2014, he blamed Kremlin pressure for his ouster as chief executive of VKontakte, the Facebook lookalike he helped start.

 

Durov “has since styled himself as a crusader fighting against state surveillance,” The Independent writes. Telegram now boasts 200 million users.

 

Telegram will likely be able to circumvent any restrictions the authorities try to impose, putting the Kremlin in the position of either backing down or coming down even harder on the popular service, internet analyst Andrei Soldatov said.

 

 

  • Telegram is the world’s ninth most popular mobile messaging app, reaching across the former Soviet Union into the Middle East, according to Reuters.

 

  • Telegram is also set to launch the world’s biggest “initial coin offering” of cryptocurrency and has already reportedly raised $1.7 billion ahead of the full launch.

 

  •  Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov used his own Telegram channel to praise the service and call for a compromise solution, RT reports.

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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