A Russian court has ordered that access to the Telegram messaging service should be blocked in the country. According to Russian news agencies, the move has disrupted communication service for a number of people including senior government officials.
A district court on Friday pulled the plug on Telegram after the messaging service refused to hand over encryption keys to its messages after repeated request from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). The government in Russia has been asking Telegram to create a backdoor so that it can monitor messages being shared on the platform. However, Telegram has so far refrained from breaking its encryption for Russia and has said that state security services will get access to user messages.
Telegram is one of the fastest growing social messaging platforms in the world and it recently surpassed 200 million monthly active users. The biggest recipe of Telegram’s success is the encrypted platform which ensures that messages sent through the platform will not be read by a third party including government authorities. Pavel Durov, the founder of Telegram Messenger, has confirmed that his company will not create a backchannel for government authorities to snoop on user messages.
The Russian court’s decision to block Telegram can hurt the company since it is a relatively popular app and can be accessed on mobile devices as well as desktops. The service is also widely used by Russian authorities and Russian news agency Interfax says Tagansky District Court described the request of Telegram’s lawyers to adjourn the hearings as “abuse of law” and ordered the trial to go ahead.
“The court has ruled to refuse the request of the Telegram party and look into the case without the participation of Telegram representatives,” Interfax quotes Tagansky District Court Judge Yulia Smolina.
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According to Reuters, the Kremlin depends extensively on Telegram and government official use the service to coordinate timings of regular conference calls with Vladimir Putin’s spokesman. Many government officials also use the messaging platform to communicate with media. A person in the Russian government told Reuters that they plan to use a VPN app for accessing the service post this order.
This is not the first time that Russia has blocked a technology platform in its country. In 2016, Russia blocked LinkedIn after a court found the service guilty of violating a law that requires companies holding data of Russian citizens to store it on servers located in the country. It is also unclear for how long people will be able to use the service via VPN, since those can also be stopped by the government.