Pavel Chikov, the head of the “Agora” human rights group, which is defending Telegram in Russia’s courts, told the website Durov’s Code that he believes it’s too early to speculate about the consequences of the company’s new policy. “As Telegram’s representatives, we’ve never denied the authorities’ right or even their obligation to fight terrorism. On the contrary, we’ve adamantly suggested a civilized approach: a court order in exchange for handing over user data — and not correspondence, but just IP addresses and telephone numbers,” Chikov said.
Does this mean Telegram has made a deal with the Devil?
While Russia’s encryption debate centers on counter-terrorism efforts (the legislation empowering the FSB to make its demands is part of the “Yarovaya anti-terrorism” amendments), it is anti-extremism policing that generates many of the country’s most controversial criminal cases.
Vkontakte, Russia's most popular social network and a company that regularly supplies the police with the information needed to press felony charges against users who share harmless memes, recently said that it, too, will start publishing transparency reports. The company has also promised new privacy controls that will allow users to make it harder for strangers to access their information.
Meduza’s Sultan Suleimanov compiled a list of questions raised by Telegram’s new policy that remain unanswered:
- Whom will Telegram consider to be terrorists? (Does merely promoting terrorism qualify?)
- Will courts need to appeal directly to Telegram, or is evidence of ongoing legal proceedings sufficient to warrant the surrender of user data?
- How detailed will Telegram's transparency reports be?
- Will Telegram notify users after sharing their data with state authorities?
- Why didn't Telegram warn users earlier about this policy change, if the messenger knew it would be necessary to comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation?