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Watchdog to consider de-blocking Telegram in Russia if service provides encryption keys to FSB

Watchdog to consider de-blocking Telegram in Russia if service provides encryption keys to FSB
Russia's telecom watchdog has reiterated its willingness to consider lifting a ban on popular messaging app Telegram if it agrees to follow a court order to give access to the content of its encrypted messages.

Telegram was ordered last year by a court in Russia to provide decryption keys that would allow law enforcement to read messages of suspected criminals sent through its service. It failed to comply, saying that the order is impossible to follow, since the encryption and decryption of messages is done on user devices. Roscomnadzor (RKN), the Russian telecommunication watchdog, was subsequently authorized to block the service in Russia until it changes its policy.

On Tuesday RKN reiterated its position, saying the ban – the enforcement of which was an ordeal for the office – may be lifted once Telegram gives assurances it follow court decisions.

Telegram does not appear to be changing its stance. A lawyer representing it reiterated that it can only go as far as providing limited data on its individual users, if a court orders it necessary.

The company “never denied that the authorities have a right and even an obligation to fight terrorism. On the contrary, we suggested the only civilized way to do it – a court order in exchange for a disclosure. A disclosure not of the content of the messages even, but only of an IP address or a telephone number. The balance must be found between national security and privacy,” Pavel Chikov said in an interview to the Durov code program.

On Tuesday, Telegram founder Pavel Durov commented on the changes on his own channel on the platform, saying that the decision to hand over IP-addresses and phone numbers of users to security services that possess a court warrant “must make Telegram a less attractive place for those who use it to spread terrorist propaganda.”

RKN started enforcing the ban of Telegram in Russia in mid-April, leading to disruptions of the service. Telegram responded by rerouting its traffic through third-party servers, which prompted the watchdog to start mass blocking of IP addresses, which belonged to companies such as Google and Amazon. The digital battle caused disruptions of other services relying on the tech giants’ infrastructure.

Telegram and other messaging services with end-to-end encryption have been criticized in various countries for enabling criminals and terrorists to hide their communications from law enforcement. The services insist that the protection of privacy of communications they offer to law-abiding citizens is a public good which outweighs the obstacles it creates for authorities.

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