Telegram dodges Russia ban by registering without decrypting messages

Telegram dodges Russia ban by registering without decrypting messages

Messaging app Telegram has conceded to demands by the Russian regulator to register details about its controlling firm with the Russian government.

However, since the app’s selling point is the security of its encrypted messages, Telegram founder Pavel Durov underlined that the company would not share any private user data with Russian authorities. The regulator Roskomnadzor had threatened to block the app if it did not disclose the requested information about its parent company.

Roskomnadzor chief Aleksandr Zharov had previously stated that “we have run out of all possible ways of official negotiations with the Telegram team”. He noted that the regulator had made frequent written requests to all of Telegram’s known office addresses demanding that it register its details, but had receive no reply.

Zharov had stated that “inclusion of the messenger into the register means that Telegram is willing to work under Russian law”, and that registering would not affect its legal status.

However, now that Telegram has complied, the regulator issued a further statement, saying that “Telegram provided all legally required information for entry in the register of information dissemination organisers. In the near future the messenger will be included in the register.”

Russia’s state-owned news outlet RT (Russia Today) reported that Telegram’s registration could result in it having to retain and possibly even share user content with Russian law enforcement. However, in a tweet, Durov claimed: “We’ve no issue with formalities, but not a single byte of private data will ever be shared with any government.”

In a statement published on Russian social network VKontakte - which was also founded by Durov – he noted that Roskomnadzor had denied that it had any interest in viewing or accessing users’ personal messages. He added that he would make no concessions to Telegram’s policies of confidentiality and privacy protection, even if this meant noncompliance with the law.

Durov went on to say that only situation he said he would accept was “the level of cooperation demonstrated in all other countries, namely, to continue to work together to remove public materials related to the promotion of terrorism, drugs, incitement to violence and pornography, as well as to continue to work to curb spamming.”

He finished by saying: “I am sure of one thing: if you really think Telegram will be blocked in Russia, it will not happen because we have refused to provide information about our company.”

Telegram has courted controversy in the past due to its focus on user privacy, with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) claiming that the app provided “terrorists with the opportunity to create secret chat rooms with a high degree of encryption”. The FSB alleged that a suicide bomber who struck Saint Petersburg in April had liaised with accomplices via Telegram.

However, Durov was defiant on the matter. Claiming that Roskomnadzor had in the past asked Telegram to enable message decryption for security services, he noted that this was not only a violation of users’ constitutional rights, but also impossible for technical reasons.

He noted that other messaging apps, including WhatsApp, provided end-to-end encryption, and theorised that terrorists would simply adopt these if Telegram was blocked. “If you want to defeat terrorism by blocking stuff, you’ll have to block the internet,” said Durov.

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