Russian media watchdog moves to block messaging app Telegram

Russian media watchdog moves to block messaging app Telegram

6 April 2018

Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor has asked judges to block messaging app Telegram after the company refused to hand over encryption keys to the security services.

The move comes just months after Telegram was fined more than $13,000 for failing to hand over data on suspects linked to a 2017 bombing in the St Petersburg metro. New Russian laws require the security services to be able to access users’ messages and data if required for an investigation.

Telegram was set-up in 2013 by Vkontakte founder Pavel Durov and has became one of the most popular messaging apps in Russia — even among top officials in the Kremlin. The service currently has over 200 million active monthly users.

Roskomnadzor said Friday that it had filed the lawsuit against Telegram at Moscow’s Tagansky District Court.

Telegram has described the request as both unlawful and technically impossible.

The demands are “unconstitutional, legally unfounded, technically and legally unenforceable,” said Telegram’s lawyer, Pavel Chikov. “Blocking the service is therefore unreasonable.”

Russian security officials have repeatedly alleged that encrypted messaging apps facilitate terrorism. The head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, said earlier this week that terrorists had attempted to coordinate 29 attacks in Russia with different messaging apps in 2018 alone.

“The decryption keys for mobile chats are kept on the devices themselves,” Telegram lawyers told a court in December 2017. “The FSB wants Telegram to embed a vulnerability into our system.”

A spokesman for President Vladimir Putin told journalists on Friday — on a conference call arranged via Telegram — that many Kremlin officlas use Telegram. “We’ll be disappointed if a consensus can’t be found to solve this situation,” Dmitry Peskov said. “But the law is the law.”