Russia bans Telegram online messaging service

Encrypted platform refused to allow secret services to access users’ data

Telegram allows users to exchange messages, photos and videos in groups of up to 5,000 people and has more than  200 million followers.  Photograph: EPA

Telegram allows users to exchange messages, photos and videos in groups of up to 5,000 people and has more than 200 million followers. Photograph: EPA

 

A court in Moscow issued a ban on Telegram on Friday after the online messaging service refused to hand Russian secret services access to its users’ encrypted data.

Moscow’s Tagansky region court approved a request from Roskomnadzor, the Russian media regulator, for Telegram to be blocked in Russia at an18-minute hearing on Friday morning.

Roskomnadzor said Telegram had failed to comply with Russian legal requirements as a “distributor of information.” Telegram said the charges were “groundless.”

Pavel Durov, the Russian-born founder of Telegram, refused to allow his lawyers to attend the court hearing on Friday, saying their presence would “legitimise an open farce.”

The Russian authorities have been piling pressure on Telegram to comply with controversial laws requiring social media companies to provide the authorities with access to encryption keys used to scramble messages they facilitate.

Russia’s Federal Security Services, the successor agent to the Soviet KGB, says it needs a backdoor to Telegram users’ messages to prevent terrorist attacks.

During a legal battle over the past year, Mr Durov has argued that the FSB’s demands are technically impossible to fulfil and violate Russian laws entitling citizens to privacy of correspondence.

Confidentiality

Telegram allows users to exchange messages, photos and videos in groups of up to 5,000 people, has attracted more than 200 million followers since its foundation in 2013. In Russia the messaging app is hugely popular largely because of the confidentiality it offers users. For Russian struggling opposition movement, Telegram has been a useful tool to rally support for protests and communicate with activists.

One of Russia’s most prominent internet entrepreneurs, Mr Durov left his country in 2014 after facing pressure from the authorities to sell his stake in Vkontakte, the popular social media site he founded.In recent months he has been working on a project to launch a homegrown crypto-currency platform on Messenger that will provide the app with a payment system independent from any government or bank.

Russia’s decision to ban Telegram comes in the same week that US lawmakers have grilled Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg over the privacy of social media communications at hearings that have raised questions about the need for internet regulation.