Court orders Telegram messenger services to be blocked in Russia

A district court in Moscow has ordered access to popular internet messenger Telegram to be blocked after the company repeatedly refused to hand over encryption keys to its messages to Russias Federal Security Service (FSB).

On Friday morning, the Tagansky District Court described the request of Telegrams lawyers to adjourn the hearings as “abuse of law” and ordered the trial to go ahead.

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The court has ruled to refuse the request of the Telegram party and look into the case without participation of Telegram representatives,” Tagansky District Court Judge Yulia Smolina announced on Friday morning, as quoted by Interfax.

After the verdict was announced, Telegram representatives told the press they planned to appeal it. Roskomnadzors legal team stated that access to Telegram in Russia would be restored after the company fulfills the order to hand over the encryption keys.

On April 6, Russian state internet watchdog Roskomnadzor filed a lawsuit to block Telegram over its refusal to hand over encryption keys to the Federal Security Service, as required by Russian data protection law. Earlier this week, the court called the FSB as a third party in the case and accepted Roskomnadzors request to immediately block Telegram if requested.

On Friday morning, the court ruled that Telegrams refusals were illegal and ordered the messenger service to be blocked. However, the ban could later be lifted if Telegram files a successful appeal.

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Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov, center, addresses the ceremony to unveil a bridge over the Argun River near Chishki village in Grozny District of the Chechen Republic © Said Tsarnaev

Telegram lawyers did not attend the preliminary consultations on Thursday or the Friday hearings. On Thursday evening, one of the lawyers, Pavel Chikov, told reporters that the companys founder, Pavel Durov, recommended the defense team not participate in the trial as their presence would “legitimize this open farce.” Earlier, Durov tweeted that threats would not work and that the company would always protect the freedom and privacy of its clients.

In addition, Telegram IT specialists explained that it was not possible to hand over encryption keys to clients messages because the correspondents exchanged them directly. In addition, Telegram representatives said that they considered the demand to provide the keys illegal.

Roskomnadzor claimed that Telegram was not entirely honest in these statements, as some unnamed experts said it is still possible to give the security services some keys allowing secret messages to be decoded.

READ MORE: FSB mulls total real-time decoding of Russian web traffic – report

This is not the first time Telegram has locked horns with the authorities over access to correspondences. In July 2016, the FSB ordered the messenger services managers to sign a document agreeing to hand over encryption keys that would give security agents access to data exchanges on six types of telephones that use the service. They refused to sign the document and the FSB took the case to court. The company was eventually fined 800,000 rubles ($14,000).

Telegram replied with a counter-suit in which it tried to have the FSB order canceled over technical formalities, but in late March of this year, the Supreme Court sided with the FSB and ordered Telegram to hand over the encryption keys to the agency without court warrants.

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