Telegram has had a tumultuous time the last few months. Early in February 2018, the app mysteriously disappeared from Apple’s AppStore and Google Play Store, reportedly because it was serving inappropriate content. Telegram, which prides itself on providing secure communication between smartphone users, has now been dealt with one more blow. The encrypted messaging app has lost a Supreme Court appeal in Russia, demanding it to turn over encryption keys to the Russian government.
Telegram vs Russia
The dispute between Russia and Telegram isn’t anything new. It all started almost a year ago, when Russia’s communications regulator demanded Telegram to turn over information about the messaging app, including access to decrypt user messages. The Russian security service, citing a suicide bombing, claim terrorists are using the app to plan attacks. Telegram, deeming users’ privacy as paramount for the company, refused to hand over the encryption keys. The company instead registered itself with the Russian government. The Russian government, in response, imposed a fine of 800,000 rubles (about $14,000) on Telegram and threatened to ban it.
Telegram took the case to the Russian Supreme Court, where it lost. This means it now must hand over the encryption keys to the Federal Security Service (FSB). The argument the FSB made in court is that the encryption keys are not an invasion of privacy. They say one cannot just use them to read the conversations without a court order.
Telegram’s lawyer, Ramil Akhmetgaliev, however, isn’t buying it. “The FSB’s argument that encryption keys can’t be considered private information defended by the Constitution is cunning. It’s like saying, ‘I’ve got a password from your email, but I don’t control your email, I just have the possibility to control,’” Ramil said.
Supreme Court Judge, Alla Nazarova, rejected Telegram’s appeal on the grounds that, “a 2016 Russian law that requires messaging services to provide the FSB with the ability to decrypt messages.”
Telegram has thus far managed to keep the conversations of its over 9.5 million Russian users completely private. However, the latest ruling means it has only 15 days to either hand over the encryption keys or once again appeal against the Supreme Court’s decision. The company reportedly isn’t just giving-up yet and plans to go for the latter.
“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, Telegram founder, tweeted.
But if it loses once again, then it risks a hefty fine and a possible ban from Russia. Big 15 days ahead for Telegram in Russia. Stay tuned as we cover all the big happenings of the “Telegram vs Russia” Saga.