Russia orders immediate block of Telegram messaging app

Russian authorities have demanded ISPs ban the crypto industry’s go-to encrypted messenger service Telegram on Friday, April 13, just weeks after the project raised $1.7 bln in its ICO presale to support the development of its own Blockchain platform.

Telegram, which has more than 200 million users worldwide, is especially popular with Russia’s elite. Both opposition politicians and Kremlin officials use it to stay in touch, and self-described insiders publish anonymous leaks of varying reliability from inside the halls of power.

The ruling follows months of battles between Telegram and Roskomnadzor, Russia’s telecommunications watchdog. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) wants to access user data from Telegram through the sharing of encryption keys, but Telegram has refused to comply even after a court ruling.

Russian news agency Tass reports that the messaging service will be “blocked immediately” following the latest court ruling, and the ban will be in place until Telegram provides decryption keys to the FSB. It’s not clear how immediate the ban will be, though. The Financial Times reports that the ban will likely take place once Telegram has exhausted the appeals process over the next month.

Russia implemented strict anti-terrorism laws in 2016, which required messaging services to provide authorities with the ability to decrypt messages. Telegram has been challenging these laws. Telegram founder and CEO Pavel Durov has now responded to the ban with a message of defiance on the service.

“At Telegram, we have the luxury of not caring about revenue streams or ad sales. Privacy is not for sale, and human rights should not be compromised out of fear or greed.”

Durov had prevented Telegram’s own lawyers from attending the hearing, due to it being in his words a “farce.”

At the end of March 2018, Telegram announced a record 200 mln active users for the preceding month. Around 10 mln of Telegram’s users are in Russia and thus will be affected by the ban.

Despite the large user base, the messenger service has faced a number of difficulties since it announced and launched the first phases of its ICO. Two quiet presales generating a rumored $1.7 bln have received such publicity that a host of organized scam operations have since successfully conned unsuspecting users out of digital currency funds, despite Telegram’s public ICO not yet being live.

In Russia meanwhile, multiple media outlets have published options for users to circumvent the block, something which is reportedly easy to do through the use of VPN services.

Similarly, despite the Ukrainian government blocking Durov’s well-known social network VKontakte in May 2017, users continue to be able to use it via mobile app.

Amnesty International on Thursday criticised the government’s case against Telegram as an attack on freedom of expression.

“By attempting to block the Telegram messaging app, the Russian authorities are launching the latest in a series of attacks on online freedom of expression in the country,” said Denis Krivosheev, the human rights group’s deputy director for eastern Europe and central Asia.

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