A Moscow court ordered telecommunications companies to block the Telegram chat app in Russia after it refused to grant intelligence authorities access to its users’ encrypted messages, in a blow to the company just weeks after it raised $1.7 billion from investors.
Telegram, run by its Russian founder Pavel Durov, failed to comply with local legislation, according to the ruling by Tagansky court judge Yuliya Smolina that granted a request by Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor to restrict user access with immediate effect. The decision can be appealed within 30 days, but must be implemented first, she said.
Because Telegram is recognized as an operator of information dissemination in Russia, the company is required to provide encryption keys to let the Federal Security Service read the correspondence of suspected terrorists. Telegram had fought to have that procedure deemed unconstitutional, but lost a bid in the country’s Supreme Court last month.
Telegram has over 9.5 million users in Russia, according to researcher Mediascope. The messenger said last month its total audience globally surpassed 200 million users, driven by attention for the world’s largest initial coin offering, which raised funds to create a blockchain network that processes transactions many times faster, and has a built-in cryptocurrency for Telegram users.
Roskomnadzor warned Telegram March 20 that it has 15 days to comply. After Durov publicly declined to provide encryption keys to authorities, the watchdog turned to the court to authorize it to block access to the messenger. With a court ruling, Roskomnadzor is set to include Telegram in a list of banned internet resources and will order the country’s communications providers to restrict access.
President Vladimir Putin signed laws in 2016 on fighting terrorism, which included a requirement for messaging services to provide the authorities with means to decrypt user correspondence.
The court decision on Telegram is intended to make one of the last holdouts among communications companies bow to Putin’s efforts to track electronic messaging. Durov in June registered the service with the state communications watchdog after it was threatened with a ban over allegations that terrorists used it to plot a suicide-bomb attack.