Telegram ordered to hand over user encryption keys by Russian authorities
Telegram is a very popular cloud-based instant messaging service, well known for the user security and privacy it provides. The client apps are available for Android, iOS, macOS, Linux, and Windows. Sadly, it seems that those over 9.5 million Russian users might soon be forced to find another similar product unless they have nothing against being spied on by the Federal Security Service (KGB's successor, often shortened as "FSB" instead of "FSS").
According to a recent report by Bloomberg, Telegram received a US$14,000 fine for not sharing its encryption keys, as they were asked back in 2017. Now, they have two weeks at their disposal to comply with the requirements of the FSB. Pavel Durov, Telegram's founder, published the following on Twitter: "Threats to block Telegram unless it gives up private data of its users won’t bear fruit. Telegram will stand for freedom and privacy."
The story started in 2016, when Vladimir Putin signed a set of laws allegedly for fighting terrorism. These laws also included a requirement for messaging services to provide the authorities the means to decrypt the messages sent and received by the users of these services. While the FSB claims that a court order would still be needed to use the encryption keys for decrypting the messages sent/received by a certain individual, the truth might be different.
"The FSB’s argument that encryption keys can’t be considered private information defended by the Constitution is cunning. It’s like saying, ‘I’ve got a password from your email, but I don’t control your email, I just have the possibility to control," said Telegram's lawyer to the press.
Since Telegram plans to appeal the ruling of the Supreme Court Judge, this whole encryption saga might take at least a few months to be over. However, by looking at Russia's actions in the past decade, we can safely assume that President Putin will not leave such a valuable resource for activists (and terrorists as well, to be honest) untouched. How will he touch it and how big will be the impact on the end users, these are two things that we will probably discover by the end of the summer.