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‘Pavel Durov is an anarchist’ How network television is preparing Russians for the banning of Telegram

Source: Meduza

On June 23, Russia’s federal censor warned the instant messenger Telegram that it would be blocked, if the app doesn’t start obeying Russian laws requiring “informational distribution organizers” to store all user communications and share “encryption keys” with Russia’s intelligence agencies. Pavel Durov, Telegram’s creator, flatly refused. Over the weekend, the country’s three biggest TV networks aired news segments about the conflict between Roskomnadzor and Pavel Durov. Meduza briefly summarizes what national television is telling Russians about Telegram.

Dangerous Telegram

“Vesti Nedeli,” Rossiya 1

Television host and leading pro-Kremlin pundit Dmitry Kiselyov told viewers this Sunday that Telegram is “more and more transforming into a communication system for terrorists.” His show discussed a handful of cases where the messenger was used to recruit news ISIS members and to prepare different terrorist attacks. The most startling instance was that the suicide bomber in St. Petersburg’s April 2017 subway explosion received a Telegram message from the attack’s organizers just two minutes before he detonated his bomb vest.

This “most closed” messenger uses encryption so strong that it offers communications that “self-destruct” after a certain amount of time, and the app has servers located in five different countries. Intelligence agencies need Telegram to grant them access to users’ communications, and merely deleting terrorists’ channels on the service is insufficient. Ilya Massukh, the former deputy head of Russia’s Communications Ministry, says that the state authorities in Britain and the U.S. control all communications on instant messengers (though there’s no evidence that “secret chats” on various networks are vulnerable to such snooping). Massukh also (falsely) claimed that officials in these countries seek a complete ban on encrypted instant messaging, arguing that drug dealers and “corrupt Russian officials” also use Telegram.

Dangerous Telegram: a messenger’s extreme privacy in the hands of terrorists and drug dealers
Rossiya 24

A depraved network

“Voskresnoye Vremya,” Pervyi Kanal

Edward Snowden long ago revealed that Western intelligence agencies monitor everyone, and can even read all our instant messages. In Russia, however, officials aren’t trying to deceive people by snooping on the citizenry in secret. Instead, Russia is going about its police work legally. “Pavel Durov is an anarchist,” Russian TV anchors explain. 

In a news segment on Pervyi Kanal, viewers see the same footage of terrorists being arrested that aired on Vesti Nedeli. Egyptian revolutionaries in 2011 used a messaging network similar to Telegram, and Telegram itself is now used to coordinate terrorist attacks in Europe. Explaining encryption, news programs show the logos of WhatsApp and Viber, but the only instant messenger they single out by name is Telegram. Durov says the network has blocked 5,000 terrorist channels, “but there’s nothing behind the big number.” And Telegram is also used to sell illegal drugs. 

A rebel app

“Itogi Nedeli,” NTV

Durov is prioritizing personal liberty over the threat posed by terrorists. Alexander Zharov, the head of Russia’s federal censor, says there are only days left before the government decides to block Telegram. “Other services,” he says, have already agreed to cooperate with Russian officials (without naming a single instant messenger app). Even State Duma deputies have been prohibited from bringing their mobile phones to meetings with the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service — that’s how far the technology has come.

Itogi Nedeli

Russian text by Mikhail Zelensky, translation by Kevin Rothrock

Photo on front page: Rossiya 24 / YouTube

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