Russian Regulator Orders Internet
Providers To Block Telegram App
April 16, 2018
State communications regulator Roskomnadzor has begun blocking access to
Telegram, seeking to bar Russians from using the popular app whose
self-exiled CEO has defied demands to let the Federal Security Service
(FSB) read users' messages.
Roskomnadzor said in a statement on April 16 that it had notified
Internet providers that they must "restrict access" to Telegram as the
result of an April 13 court ruling in favor of the regulator.
Telegram CEO Pavel Durov swiftly denounced the Roskomnadzor order,
saying that "the quality of life of 15 million Russians will worsen" as
"We consider the decision to block [Telegram] unconstitutional and will
continue to stand up for the right of Russians to confidential
correspondence," Durov wrote on the social network VKontakte, adding a
Russia's campaign to block Telegram has deepened concerns that the
government is seeking to close avenues for dissent as President Vladimir
Putin heads into a new six-year term.
Amnesty International said on April 12 that blocking Telegram, which has
been used by senior government officials as well as Kremlin critics,
would be "the latest in a series of attacks on online freedom of
expression" in Russia.
The April 13 court decision followed a monthslong standoff between
Telegram and the FSB, which demanded the encryption keys that would give
it access to users' messages. Durov refused, saying the request was
"Privacy is not for sale, and human rights should not be compromised out
of fear or greed," Durov, who left Russia in 2014, said on Telegram
after the ruling.
Clients of leading Internet providers in Russia -- Beeline, Megafon,
Yota, MTS, and Tele2 -- said on April 16 they were not able to access
Telegram and had to use virtual private networks (VPNs) to avoid the
Roskomnadzor chief Aleksandr Zharov said that "measures against the
tools to avoid the blockage of Telegram will be undertaken in accordance
to the law and on request by law enforcement."
Zharov added that the media regulator would officially request that
U.S.-based Internet giant Apple's App Store and Alphabet's Google Play
remove Telegram messenger app from their sites.
Pavel Chikov, a rights activist and attorney who represents Telegram,
said on April 16 that Telegram's lawyers had managed to postpone the
blockage by several months, which he said helped to raise awareness
about the situation around the world.
"We consider the first stage of our work accomplished, but there are
more important stages ahead," Chikhov wrote on Telegram, adding that law
enforcement authorities "have no chance to defeat progress."
Durov first revealed the FSB demand in September 2017, saying the
intelligence agency had notified him that Telegram was in violation of a
controversial antiterrorism law requiring companies to provide access to
encrypted communications they facilitate.
Writing on VKontakte on April 16, Durov said that blocking Telegram
would not reduce the "terrorist threat to Russia" because "extremists
will continue to use digital communications channels."
He added: "Russia's national security will diminish because some
Russians' personal data will move from a platform that is neutral to
Russia to WhatsApp and Facebook, which can be monitored from the United
Human Rights Watch has said that antiencryption provisions in the
so-called Yarovaya laws, adopted in 2016, would "endanger activists and
journalists who rely on encrypted messaging applications to communicate
Durov fought the demand, but Russian courts have ruled against Telegram
at every juncture.
When the Supreme Court threw out an appeal on March 20, Roskomnadzor
ordered Telegram to provide the FSB with the encryption keys within 15
Telegram did not comply and the regulator filed suit, leading to the
April 13 ruling.
33, announced in 2014 that he had left Russia after he was forced to
sell his stake in another popular social network, VKontakte, amid
pressure from authorities.
Telegram has attracted more than 200 million users worldwide since it
was launched by Durov and his brother in 2013.
It allows users to communicate via encrypted messages that cannot be
read by others outside the exchanges -- including government
Russian activists and government critics have used Telegram and other
social media to spread the word about antigovernment demonstrations and
to publicize corruption allegations against Putin, a former FSB chief
and Soviet KGB officer, and his allies.