Telegram Loses Court Battle – Ordered to Hand Over Encryption Keys to the Kremlin

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Mar 20, 2018
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Telegram has lost its battle against the Russian government over user data privacy. The country’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the popular messaging app must provide encryption keys as requested by the security services. Telegram had appealed against an earlier ruling, but the Supreme Court rejected that appeal earlier today.

The company has been instructed to “provide the FSB with the necessary information to decode electronic messages received, transmitted, or being sent” within 15 days.

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Pavel Durov, Telegram’s self-exiled Russian founder had said last year that the FSB was demanding the company to offer it backdoor access, promising users that it won’t happen. The Russian Federal Security Service had then pushed the company to the court and Telegram was also hit with a $14,000 fine.

If it refuses to comply with the Russian government, Telegram could be booted out of the country, which remains one of its biggest markets with over 9.5 million users.

Russia has been blocking apps and services that don’t follow its data sharing policies or refuse to register with the government under the recent cybersecurity laws. Russian President, Vladimir Putin who won presidential election earlier this week, signed a law in 2016 that required messaging services to provide the agencies with backdoor access so they can have full access to user correspondence.

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“The FSB’s argument that encryption keys can’t be considered private information defended by the Constitution is cunning,” Ramil Akhmetgaliev, the company’s lawyer, said after today’s hearing.

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.’

In the past, Telegram has come under fire from the security experts and privacy advocates for using its homegrown encryption technology. The company also doesn’t offer true end-to-end encryption where companies lose the ability to hand over encryption keys to the authorities. However, Telegram suggests that it’s the US-based messaging apps that have already offered backdoor access to intelligence agencies, especially the FBI.

It remains unclear how the company will proceed from here, but right now it appears Telegram will lose consumers anyway, whether it agrees to the FSB’s demands or if it’s blocked in the country.

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