Just weeks after launching one of the most successful ICOs ever, Telegram is to be banned in Russia. The ruling came after the company refused to yield encryption keys to the Russian authorities and Moscow has now ordered telecommunications companies to block the app.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said they need the keys to monitor the messages of potential terrorists, and had given Telegram a deadline of April 4, 2018, to hand them over.
The company, however, claimed that the way the app is built means it is not possible to provide the encryption keys that would grant access to user messages. The platform is critical to many communities in the cryptocurrency space and is also one of the most popular encrypted messaging services available in Russia.
Telegram is not the only private messaging service available in the country, but it is one of the most widely used. The service is particularly popular with Russian politicians and Kremlin officials but is also known to have been used by the Islamic State and its supporters.
On that last note, the company has stated that efforts have been made to close down channels supporting the radical Islamic organization.
Part of the appeal of Telegram is that markets itself as a secure messaging app. It claims to allow groups of up to 5,000 people to share messages, documents, videos, and pictures freely and with complete privacy.
However unconfirmed leaks are alleged to have occurred, and the app has received criticism for not encrypting chats by default, which the FBI advocated:
“There are many Telegram users who think they are communicating in an encrypted way, when they’re not because they don’t realize that they have to turn on an additional setting.”
Telegram was launched in 2013 by brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov and is currently based in Berlin, Germany. The internet entrepreneurs have frequently clashed with the Russian security services and as such left Russia in 2014.
When the Russian government demanded Telegram provide encryption keys, Pavel Durov taunted the security agency by posting a photograph of two metal keys. He has stated publicly that he won’t yield access to the user data.
Threats to block Telegram unless it gives up private data of its users won’t bear fruit. Telegram will stand for freedom and privacy.
— Pavel Durov (@durov) March 20, 2018
Pavel Chikov, Telegram’s legal representative, commented that the attempt to stop the app being used in Russia was “groundless.” He said:
“The FSB’s requirements to provide access to private conversations of users are unconstitutional, baseless, which cannot be fulfilled technically and legally.”
The Russian media regulator stated in the court filing that Telegram had failed to comply with its legal requirements as a “distributor of information.”