Having missed the deadline to hand over encryption keys, Russia will now be blocking Telegram services.
If you’re a Telegram user, who suddenly finds themselves unable to communicate with friends in Russia, have no fear. It’s not another outage. A server has not lost power causing the messenger application to go down for hours… again. Instead, it’s simply a case of the Russian government blocking the app. In other words, don’t worry about the service coming back online. It doesn’t look like it will.
The battle between the government and Telegram goes back a year, to when Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) requested encryption keys for six phone numbers. Those phone numbers had had been used in the 2017 bombing of St. Petersburg metro. The bombing killed 14 and left many injured. Telegram never responded to the request. Instead, the service was charged a $13,000 fine.
Since then, the FSB has continued to attempt to get encryption keys from Telegram. It’s stated reason? To thwart terrorist organizations. Telegram has refused, and the Russian government gave a deadline of April 4th to hand the keys over. Telegram did not do so, and now a Russian court has upheld the government’s decision, which will result in the service being blocked in the country.
There is no doubt that private messengers are used in terror and criminal endeavors. The companies behind these messengers and services have made this use far too inviting. How many criminal enterprises can find companies which will spend their own money in legal battles to defend criminal acts? Tim Cook even stood before the US congress to fight for the “privacy” of a dead terrorist who had murdered innocents. It is an odd situation that we’ve gotten ourselves into.
Messenger applications are convenient. They’re fun. They offer many more capabilities that SMS messaging, and are more conversation friendly than email. However, in the race to market one company’s services over others, companies seem to have built a safe space for crime and terror. No other area of our lives are safe from legal search and seizure, why should a messenger application or a cell phone? Let’s be clear. No one wants these companies to offer unfettered surveillance of the public. Even if most users are in fact allowing private companies like Facebook to do just that.
In response to the ban, Telegram founder Pavel Durov said, “The power that local governments have over IT corporations is based on money. 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 (remember how last year Apple moved iCloud servers to China). 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.”
It’s great to see companies concerned about user privacy. We need more of that. However, I’d also like to see them concerned about the safety of their users. There is no up-side to protecting the communications of terrorists or criminals. There is no positive that can come from ignoring lawful requests that can stop further death or injury, except for marketing. Marketing which results in greater financial success for men like Durov. In a decision that could be life or death, marketing and greed should play no part.