Russia Bans Telegram, a Popular Encrypted Messaging App

"Privacy is not for sale, and human rights should not be compromised out of fear or greed."


A Russian court has banned Telegram, a popular encrypted messaging app, because of the company's refusal to give its encryption keys to the state. The move has disrupted millions of users' communications channels.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) has been after Telegram's user data, labeling the organization a first-choice platform for "international terrorists organizations in Russia" after a suicide bomber reportedly used it to communicate with accomplices.

When the FBS demanded that Telegram decrypt its user data, Telegram attempted to fight the action in court. Last month, it lost the bid to appeal, was slapped with a $14,000 fine, and had a 15-day window to comply with the order. After Telegram continued to defy the court, the government prohibited it entirely.

"The power that local governments have over IT corporations is based on money," said Telegram founder Pavel Durov in a statement. "At any given moment, a government can crash their stocks by threatening to block revenue streams from its markets and thus force these companies to do strange things."

Durov's statement also referenced Apple's choice to bow to the Chinese authorities by relocating its iCloud services and cryptographic keys to China, in order to secure market access. Some fear that this may make it easier for Beijing to abuse users' rights.

"At Telegram, we have the luxury of not caring about revenue streams or ad sales," Durov said in his statement. "Privacy is not for sale, and human rights should not be compromised out of fear or greed."

Telegram and Durov are no strangers to nationwide bans. Durov has lived in exile since 2014, after the Russian government pressured him to resign from his position at the social networking site Vkontake—often described as the Facebook of Russia—largely because he refused to give encryption access to allies of President Vladimir Putin.

Iran wants Telegram banned by the end of April. Officials there are upset that Telegram gives Iranians access to foreign sources the government does not support. In Indonesia, the company faced temporary bans after it emerged that ISIL groups used Telegram to promote its content. And here in the U.S., Congress, the FBI, and the Justice Department have all expressed an increasing interest in bills that would allow the government to compel individuals or companies, such as Telegram, Apple, and Facebook, to decrypt their data.

Telegram currently has 200 million users worldwide. According to Bloomberg, roughly 9.5 million of those live in Russia.