A Moscow court has banned popular messaging app Telegram from operating inside Russia.
The decision followed a legal request from Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor to block the app after Telegram refused to hand over its encryption keys. Security officials maintain that the app has broken Russian anti-terror laws that require the police to be able to access users’ messages and data for investigations.
The judge on Friday said that the decision should be carried out immediately, but there has been no sign yet of any disruption to the service.
"Imagine that fighting is underway and you ask: "when will the attack begin?" Well, soon. But we won't say when we will attack," a representative for Roskomnadzor said Friday when asked about a timeframe for the ban, according to Russian television channel NTV.
Telegram has repeatedly branded the court’s demands as “unconstitutional, legally unfounded and technically and legally unenforceable".
“The decryption keys for mobile chats are kept on the devices themselves,” Telegram lawyers said in December. “The FSB wants Telegram to embed a vulnerability into our system.”
Created in 2013 by Russian tech billionaire Pavel Durov, Telegram has more than 200 million active monthly users worldwide. It has fast become one of Russia's most popular apps, used by top officials and even by those working inside the Kremlin.
Many government agencies spent Friday morning promoting other social media channels, with some officially announcing their intention to switch to Tam Tam or Viber. The Russian Foriegn Ministry, for example, told readers on Telegram that they would be switching their Telegram service to Viber.
Other popular Telegram channels have already announced their intention to continue. “There is no doubt that this channel will continue”, wrote Strelka, a Moscow-based arts magazine.