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.