A lot has changed in the days since a Russian court ruled to block Telegram messenger from the country after the company refused to provide access to the private conversations of its users to the government.
The request for encryption keys came almost a year after the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor), the telecom watchdog in Russia asked the app to join its official register.
As part of the official register, Telegram was asked to provide Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB), information on the private interactions of the users. Telegram registered with the official register after being threatened with a ban, but it stopped short of complying with the Roskomnadzor for its data storage demands. According to the rules by Roskomnadzor, all the companies on the official register must store all the data of Russian users using the service inside the country.
Telegram has a long-standing reputation for enabling secure communication with diplomats and government officials working at the Moscow Kremlin, opting for Telegram when talking to journalists. Pavel Durov, the founder of Telegram added “At Telegram, we have the luxury of not caring about revenue streams or ad sales. Privacy is not for sale, and human rights should not be compromised out of fear or greed”, after the court ruled to block the service in Russia.
Right after the ruling, Russia went on an unprecedented offensive against Telegram by blocking millions of IP address even on the suspicion that they were being used by Telegram. Durov went on to add, “For the last 24 hours Telegram has been under a ban by internet providers in Russia. The reason is our refusal to provide encryption keys to Russian security agencies. For us, this was an easy decision. We promised our users 100 percent privacy and would rather cease to exist than violate this promise.” He clarified that Telegram has not seen a significant drop in user engagement as the users have been using VPNs and proxies to bypass the ban.
Telegram has also been relying on third-party cloud services to remain available for its users. He added that the Russian market accounts to about 7 percent of the total Telegram user base and its organic growth in other regions will compensate for the loss in a couple of months if the service was to lose the entire market. But, he felt that it was important for him to do everything that he could for Russian users using Telegram. Durov started giving out Bitcoin grants to companies and individuals running VPNs and socks5 proxies.
For the uninitiated, socks5 proxy is a secure proxy server which uses socks5, an internet protocol for routing data packets between a user using the proxy server and the actual server. The proxy server generates a random IP address before sending the data packets, making it more secure than the usual proxy servers. He added that he was happy to donate millions of dollars to this cause, going so far as to call the movement a ‘Digital Resistance’, a decentralised movement fighting for digital freedom and progress across the globe.
The crackdown has since intensified, with the regulator blocking “almost 18 million IP addresses” without any success. To show support for the movement, Durov asked Russians supporting a free internet to fly a paper plane from their window at 7 pm local time yesterday. He also asked everyone to collect the aeroplanes an hour later because of Earth Day. He thanked the people supporting freedom for the internet and the ones who were setting up sock5-proxies and VPNs and sharing them with their friends and relatives. Later, Durov shared a video clip with a number of people flying paper planes in support of an open internet, thanking Russia for its support.