Extremist groups, as well as pedophiles, drug dealers, and anti-vax groups have been using Telegram as their main channel of communication for a few years now in many countries. Even more, in those regions where piracy is punishable by law and the download and sharing of such content via traditional methods is properly detected/blocked and punished, its use to spread pirated content has increased dramatically in the last years. However, a ban across the entire European Union would be the worst crackdown on this free multiplatform piece of code so far.
On Wednesday, an Interior Ministry spokesman said that German officials are discussing what measures could be taken against Telegram as it is not clear yet what can be done, both technically and legally wise. German authorities are now investigating alleged death threats against Manuela Schwesig, the state premier of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The communication method used in this case was, obviously, Telegram.
More than a year ago, Russia decided to lift the ban on the app after unsuccessfully enforcing it for nearly two years. Considering this, even if Germany manages to pull it off locally and then expands the ban across the entire European Union, will they be able to enforce it properly?
Without further ado, these are the possible methods of censorship and how the average Telegram user can avoid them:
- Force ISPs/mobile operators to prevent customers from accessing Telegram. Easy to bypass using a VPN, and there are plenty of free and paid options to choose from.
- Removal of the app from Google Play Store, Apple Store, Microsoft Store, alongside censoring of the official Telegram website. Obviously, the Telegram website will still be accessible by using a VPN, and the app itself will be made available for download via APKPure, F-Droid, or file-sharing platforms such as MediaFire or WeTransfer.
- Locking out local (Germany-only) or regional (entire European Union) phone numbers from signing up for the service. In this case, the user can grab an online number for free or purchase one (sadly, no such service provides virtual phone numbers specifically for avoiding legally-imposed censorship, so they can kick out users who do so at any time).
Obviously, there are plenty of methods to avoid censorship once it is in place, but simple people who are just enjoying their freedom of speech should not resort to underground methods to communicate and break the law while doing so. As a Telegram user, I can say that in all the groups that I joined knowingly (there are plenty of bots around that keep adding me to unwanted groups, sadly), the users that even mention illegal content, such as asking for child porn or selling/looking to buy drugs, are swiftly removed, no questions asked.
The problem with censorship is that it starts with what appear to be fair reasons, and it always gets too far. No matter how Orwellian it might seem, it includes a death sentence for smuggling a movie, and years of prison for watching it.
Do you think there is any point in banning communication channels for extremists? Living in a country that has been under heavy censorship until 1989 and still remembering how it was, I strongly believe that censorship is one of the main ingredients that have been fueling extremism in the last decade and enforcing it only makes things worse.