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Russia to block Telegram for refusing government snooping demand

Telegram will soon be unavailable to Russian citizens after a court blocked the messaging app after it failed to comply with an order to share encrypted data with the government.

The ban follows a protracted row between Telegram and Russian officials who insist they need access to encryption keys to investigate serious crimes including terrorist attacks.

The Moscow court ruled that Telegram will be blocked in Russia until it hands over the keys.

The app recently boasted that it hit the 200-million-user mark, making it the ninth most popular messaging app globally.

Telegram was founded by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov and its custom-designed encryption protocol has often received criticism over concerns it is not secure enough.

But the app also has true end-to-end encryption available to users wanting to use its ‘secret’ chat feature.

Telegram argues that Russias FSB intelligence service is violating consumer rights, while authorities say the app has been used by violent extremists.

The Supreme Court last month threw out an appeal by Telegram against the requirement to provide the data.

“The court decided to meet the requirements of Roskomnadzor, impose restrictions on access to Telegram messenger and stop providing technical conditions for the exchange of messages,”  said judge Yulia Smolina, according to the TASS news agency.

Roskomnadzor head Alexander Zharov said the ban would be enforced soon but would not say exactly when, TASS reported.

Durov had asked his lawyers not to attend the court hearing because he said he saw the verdict as a foregone conclusion.

Pavel Chikov, one of Telegram’s lawyers, said in a post on his Telegram channel that the company would not back down in the face of the Russian intelligence services because the court hearing, which lasted about 20 minutes, showed that the case against Telegram is politically motivated.

“It is impossible to make any concessions or accept any agreements in this situation,” he said.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, whose team uses Telegram to arrange briefings for reporters, said it is not the Kremlin’s place to comment on court rulings.

Telegram was still available late on Friday afternoon in Russia, several hours after the court ruling.

Durov in a social media post called on Telegram users in Russia not to delete the app and keep downloading updates, promising the latest version will have “built-in” features to circumvent the ban.

“Privacy is not for sale, and human rights should not be compromised out of fear or greed,” he said.

Russia’s deputy communications minister, Alexei Volin, said VPNs and other ways of circumnavigating the ban meant Telegram users would not be greatly inconvenienced.

“Many Telegram users have already adopted different messengers, and those who want to stay with this product know a lot of ways to get round the ban and continue using the services they are used to,” Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

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