Telegram is being ordered by Russia to hand over user encryption keys

Telegram (Image credit: Android Central)

Telegram, the ultra-popular messaging app that's most well-known for user security and privacy, may have to hand over its user's encryption keys to the Russian government. It was reported on March 20 that Telegram had lost an appeal in court against Russia's Federal Security Service (the spiritual successor to the KGB) which is asking for encryption keys as a result of President Vladimir Putin wanting access to his citizen's digital communications.

Alla Nazarova, the Supreme Court Judge in Russia, rejected Telegram's appeal, but there could still be some hope. Telegram says that it'll be appealing the new ruling, but should Russia deem this as a non-compliance case, Telegram could potentially be blocked altogether from the country.

In 2016, Vladimir Putin signed a series of laws that required messaging apps/services to give the government a way to decrypt any and all user conversations as a way to fight terrorism. Telegram chose to not hand over this information in 2017, and as such, was fined $14,000.

Telegram could potentially be blocked from Russia.

The Federal Security Service (also known as the FSB) claims that it having access to encryption keys doesn't violate user privacy and that collecting people's data still requires a separate court order. However, per Telegram's lawyer, Ramil Akhmetgaliev –

The FSB's argument that encryption keys can't be considered private information defended by the Constitution is cunning. It's like saying, 'I've got a password from your email, but I don't control your email, I just have the possibility to control.

Russia is one of Telegram's most popular markets with over 9.5 million Russian users, and it'll be interesting to see where we go from here. It's nice to think that Telegram will be able to fight its way out of these demands, but the likelihood of that happening doesn't seem all that great at the moment.

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Joe Maring

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

  • Russia is still Russia!
  • Glad I didn't use Telegram. I had concerns over the level of openness they had regarding their encryption routines but sounds like they have bigger issues now.
  • It's not so much Telegram but rather repressive authoritarian regimes like Russia.
  • "...wanting access to his citizen's personal communications.", yeah right more like wanting to spy on the citizens of other countries. Governments change, the lies stay the same.
  • At this point, I assume that just about any intelligence service in the world can read the messages and possibly the entire contents of someone's smartphone of anyone anywhere. Good for Telegram for standing up to that as long as it could.
  • Just say no
  • I'll assume WhatsApp is in the same boat...😨
  • ok, so to all those just assuming Telegram=Russia. That's not the case. Pavel Durov explicitely mentioned several times they have their servers spread all over several jurisdictions exactly for this purpose. But if you prefer to still think like that, go on an use your secure and absolutely untouched Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp etc.
  • I don't think anyone who's been paying attention thinks anything even remotely related to Facebook is secure. Actually, that's pretty much true of any service that stores messages on a central server and/or has control over your end-to-end encryption. Sure, these services may tout that feature, but I'd be shocked if they can't turn it off at will on a per-user basis.
  • They was being sarcastic about Facebook
  • No surprises from totalitarian governments.
    When the government wants to control all aspects of your life, you should fear and not trust the government.
    Putin is a defecto dictator. The most recent election punctuated it with an exclamation point. The same for China's Xi Jinping with the change so he can be president for life. Be afraid.
  • Telegram should tell Russia to pound sand. Let Russia try to enforce a puppet court order on servers located in other countries. And they should scrub all servers located in Russia.
  • Why does Telegram even have universal encryption keys? If it was set up properly, there would be nothing they could do.
  • If Telegram wishes to remain a trusted entity they have to refuse to comply. Even if it means being banned from Russia.