After an 18-minute hearing on Friday, Judge Yulia Smolina of the Moscow Tagansky District Court took 40 minutes to deliberate and grant Roskomnadzor’s request to start blocking Telegram in Russia immediately, circumventing the typical legal process whereby the messenger would be able to appeal the verdict and delay when it comes into force. At Telegram CEO Pavel Durov’s request, the company’s lawyers didn’t attend the hearing, trying not to “legitimate” the trial. The legal team says it will appeal Friday’s decision.
Once it has a physical copy of the verdict in its possession, Roskomnadzor will have the legal authority to order Russian Internet Service Providers to start blocking access to Telegram hyperlinks, and it can also demand that Apple and Google remove it from their app stores.
Russian news organizations, state agencies, and many of the most popular Telegram channels have started redirecting subscribers to their accounts on other social networks, including Facebook, Vkontakte, Twitter, Instagram, Viber, and TamTam.
Hours after Roskomnadzor won the legal right to start blocking Telegram, the popular Internet censorship-circumvention tool Opera VPN was leading searches on Apple’s App Store in Russia. Telegram, meanwhile, was the App Store’s most-downloaded free app.
In May 2017, the Ukrainian government blocked several of Russia’s most popular online resources, leading several prominent Russian state officials to praise Internet-circumvention technology. Today, many of those comments are coming back to bite the authorities. When Ukraine blocked Vkontakte and Yandex, Deputy Communications Minister Alexey Volin said blocking large popular online resources “discredits the government.” He also insisted that such censorship is unfeasible, saying Internet users will use anonymizers, VPN services, and other programs.
The Federal Security Service has ordered Telegram to surrender the encryption keys for all user correspondence, and the company was already hit with an 800,000-ruble ($13,000) fine for noncompliance. Telegram insists that it is technically incapable of complying because its software architecture doesn’t store these keys centrally (the keys are created and stored on users’ own devices). Russian lawmakers say Telegram must redesign its software, if it’s not currently capable of complying with the country’s new “anti-terrorism” laws.