Telegram banned in Russia over encryption dispute

13 Apr 2018

A Russian court approved the state’s communication watchdog, Roskomnadzor, request to limit access to Telegram, due to the company’s repeated refusal to hand over encryption keys, this way undermining privacy of its users. Raskomnadzor asked the court to block the app, and for the ban to take an immediate effect. The media reports that the court scheduled the hearing one day prior, during which it took 18 minutes to approve the watchdog’s request. Raskomnadzor’s head, Alexander Zharov, stated that the ban would be soon in effect, and soon after also blocked. The judge, Yulia Smolina, said: ‘The court decided to meet the requirements of Roskomnadzor, impose restrictions on access to Telegram messenger and stop providing technical conditions for the exchange of messages.’ Russia’s Federal Security service claimed the need to access to some of the messages as part of the guarding against terrorist attacks. Telegram Funder and CEO, Pavel Durov, reacted to the decision by saying that the app will use built-in systems to circumnavigate the ban, underlying that the access will be difficult without the use of a virtual private network. Telegram’s lawyer, Pavel Chikov, wrote on a Telegram channel: ‘They have demonstrated again and again that the court system is devoted to serving the interests of the authorities. They no longer even care about basic external appearances.’ Among app’s 9.5 million active users within the country are also journalists and members of Russia’s political opposition. Telegram is also used by the Kremlin for communicating with reporters, as well as to arrange conference calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman.

Explore the issues

Privacy and data protection are two interrelated Internet governance issues. Data protection is a legal mechanism that ensures privacy. Privacy is usually defined as the right of any citizen to control their own personal information and to decide about it (to disclose information or not). Privacy is a fundamental human right. It is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in many other international and regional human rights conventions. The July 2015 appointment of the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age reflects the rising importance of privacy in global digital policy, and the recognition of the need to address privacy rights issues the the global, as well as national levels.

Encryption refers to the scrambling of electronic documents and communication into an unreadable format which can be read only through the use of encryption software. Traditionally, governments were the only players who had the power and the know-how to develop and deploy powerful encryption in their military and diplomatic communications. With user-friendly packages, encryption has become affordable for any Internet users, including criminals and terrorists. This triggered many governance issues related to finding the right balance between the need to respect privacy of communication of Internet users and the need for governments to monitor some types of communication of relevance for the national security (potential criminal and terrorist activity remains an issue).


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