A court in Russia has blocked the Telegram app (a cloud-based instant messenger) in the country, in a move that security experts say is "unlikely to have a meaningful impact on crime or terrorism" but "has successfully trampled what appears to be a constitutional right to privacy and free speech."
The move could cause widespread communications disruption for millions of users.
Russian news agency Tass reports that the encrypted messaging service will be 'blocked immediately' following the ruling and notes that the ban will be in place until Telegram provides decryption keys to the FSB.
The order arrives just a week after Russia's state communication watchdog filed a lawsuit to limit access to the messaging app due to its owners refusing to hand over message transcripts to Russian state security. That happened not long after Telegram lost an appeal in March after the country's Supreme Court ruled that it must continue providing user data to the country's security services, the FSB, so that it can prevent terrorist attacks.
Lee Munson, a security researcher at Comparitech.com, said:
"Even though only a miniscule proportion of Telegrams 200 million or so users would ever dream of doing anything wrong, let alone committing terrorist atrocities, the Russian government has successfully trampled what appears to be a constitutional right to privacy and free speech for its citizens by blocking the app.
"Though its request for encryption keys was unlikely to have a meaningful impact on crime or terrorism anyway, the country's media regulator took its legal bull into the china shop of secure communications in a way that British home secretaries can only dream about."
Over the past few years, the Putin administration has been trying to monitor electronic communications in a bid to fight terrorism and in 2016, it implemented a new law calling on firms to decrypt user data.
Telegram was given a deadline of 4th April to hand over the keys but that deadline has now passed and the app stuck to its guns.
Why? Because doing so would go against the whole premise of the app, mostly because of its ability to allow communication via encrypted messages that can't read by third parties, including authorities.
The app's makers also claim that the country's demands violate the Russian Constitution, which entitles citizens to privacy of correspondence.
The Telegram app is exceptionally popular in Russia, used not only by everyday people but also government agencies. Apparently, the Kremlin even uses Telegram to coordinate timings of regular conference calls with Vladimir Putin's spokesman.
The messaging app's founder, Pavel Durov, has said on numerous occasions already that the company would not hand over encryption keys to Russian authorities as it does not share confidential user data with anyone.
Munson said, "The upshot of this move, of course, is that many innocent civilians will lose the ability to secure their online chats while the bad guys will just choose an alternative app or create their own.
"Given the fact that Russian officials also use Telegram, it is hard to see who, if anyone, actually wins or gains anything following this ruling."
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