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Russian-built Telegram messaging app takes battle with state security over access to data to European Court of Human Rights

Russian-built Telegram messaging app takes battle with state security over access to data to European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights will consider a long-running dispute between the Telegram messaging service and Russia’s top state security agency over access to users’ data.

The app, which has previously been reportedly used by Islamist terror groups and cyber criminals, boasts of the impenetrability of its encryption and also offers advanced options, such as “self-destructing messages” for those “looking for extra privacy.”

The FSB, Russia’s domestic security agency and the successor to the KGB, has repeatedly requested that Telegram share technical details that could allow it access to account holders’ personal data. It will now be asked to justify those requests in court.

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The head of the Russia-based human rights organization Agora, Pavel Chikov, shared details via his channel on the service on Monday. He wrote that justices would consider whether “the intervention is prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society.”

Chikov claims the requests are impossible to meet, as “the architecture of the service, using end-to-end encryption, does not allow the service administrator to access the contents of secret chats.”

A Moscow court previously fined the company 800,000 rubles ($10,000) for refusing to grant the FSB access. Telegram appealed the decision in Russia, but the ruling was upheld.

In 2018, the dispute over data came to a head when a court ordered Telegram to be blocked in Russia until it complied with the security services’ demands. However, the ban was widely believed to be ineffective, and the app went offline for only a few hours. In June this year, Russia’s telecommunications watchdog agreed to lift the formal ban on the service while legal action over access to its backend is ongoing.

Telegram has a dedicated user base in Russia, but it is far from the most popular messaging service. According to data website Statista, WhatsApp leads the list of the country’s top-10 apps, attracting more than 61 million users each month. Telegram does not appear on the list.

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