Russia’s Roskomnadzor, or The Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media has begun blocking millions of IP addresses in an effort to shutdown Telegram, a popular messaging app, in Russia. According to Reuters, the ban comes in response to Telegram’s refusal to hand over encryption keys to user messages after an April 13 court order from a Moscow court demanded access to user encryption keys to combat with terrorism.
The encrypted messaging service is often used all over the world for those seeking relative levels of privacy. In fact, it’s a known source of communication for much of the Middle East and those under rather oppressive political arrangements.
Telegram founder and CEO Pavel Durov has responded to Russian efforts to block the messaging app in Russian by saying “For the last 24 hours Telegram has been under a ban by internet providers in Russia. The reason is our refusal to provide encryption keys to Russian security agencies. For us, this was an easy decision. We promised our users 100% privacy and would rather cease to exist than violate this promise.”
Reports indicate that over 15 million IP addresses, including many owned by Google and Amazon, have been blocked in Russia. So far there appears to have been little impact on Telegram users, with many skirting the IP blocks through the use of proxy and VPN services. There have been reports however, of other services being impacted by the IP ban.
Roskomnadzor has sent an official request to both Google and Amazon to remove the Telegram software from their online stores in an effort to keep the application from Russian users, but so far there has been no response from either company.
While Russia makes up only 7% of the Telegram user base, Pavel seems to have been energized to step up the fight against privacy abuses in Russia. “To support internet freedoms in Russia and elsewhere I started giving out Bitcoin grants to individuals and companies who run socks5 proxies and VPN,” Durov said.
“I am happy to donate millions of dollars this year to this cause, and hope that other people will follow. I called this Digital Resistance – a decentralized movement standing for digital freedoms and progress globally.”
A native of St. Petersburg, and a pioneer of social media in Russia, Pavel left his home country in 2014 and has since been a vocal critic of the Kremlin’s policies on internet freedom. Pavel is most certainly not to be ignored. As the founder of both Telegram and vKontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook, he has a large following and deep pockets as well. A continued and long-drawn battle over privacy and censorship could end up having long-lasting positive effects for Russia, and in other countries where censorship is the norm.