(Reuters) – A Russian court on Friday ordered that access to the Telegram messenger service should be blocked in Russia, Russian news agencies reported, heralding communication disruption for scores of users – including government officials. The decision came a week after Russias state communication watchdog filed a lawsuit to limit access to Telegram messaging app following the companys refusal to give Russian state security services access to its users messages. With more than 200 million users worldwide, the mobile messaging app allows users to communicate via encrypted messages which cannot be read by third parties, including government authorities. Pavel Durov, founder of the Telegram, had repeatedly said his company would not hand over encryption keys to Russian authorities as it does not share confidential user data with anyone. In Russia, Telegram is increasingly popular as an app for mobile devices and desktops – not only among ordinary people but is widely used by authorities. The Kremlin uses Telegram to coordinate timings of regular conference calls with Vladimir Putins spokesman, while many government officials use the messenger to communicate with media. When Reuters asked a person in the Russian government on how they would operate without access to Telegram, the person, who asked not be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue, replied by sending a screenshot of his mobile phone with an open VPN app. Users in Russia actively use virtual private networks, or VPNs, and other technologies, known as anonymisers, that allow people to get around restrictions that Russian authorities periodically impose on internet resources. Telegram became the second global network after LinkedIn to be blocked in Russia. LinkedIn was blocked in 2016 when a court found the firm guilty of violating a law that requires companies holding Russian citizens data to store it on servers on Russian soil. The ban on using Telegram in Russia comes at a time when the company is undertaking the worlds biggest initial coin offering – a private sale of tokens which could be traded as an alternative currency, similar to bitcoin or Ethereum. The company has so far raised $1.7 billion in pre-sales via the offering, according to media reports.
A Russian court has ordered a block on access to the Telegram messaging app — with the block coming into force immediately, according to the BBC. The messaging platform has been under pressure to hand over encryption keys to Russian authorities so they can access user data — which they claim is needed for counterterrorism purposes — but has so far refused. However late last month Telegram lost a bid before the Supreme Court to block security services from getting access to users data, though it said it planned to appeal. The court gave it 15 days to hand over the encryption keys. Again it refused. So last week Russias state communication watchdog filed a lawsuit to limit access to the service — and a court in Moscow has now granted the block. In a tweet responding to the news, founder Pavel Durov wrote: Privacy is not for sale, and human rights should not be compromised out of fear or greed. Durov is himself Russian but has lived in exile since 2014 after claiming hed been forced to hand control of his former social networking company, vk, to allies of Russian president Vladimir Putin — also as a result of refusing to hand user data to authorities. In a longer post on his Telegram channel today, Durov adds: The power that local governments have over IT corporations is based on money. At any given moment, a government can crash their stocks by threatening to block revenue streams from its markets and thus force these companies to do strange things (remember how last year Apple moved iCloud servers to China). 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. Telegrams service has faced temporary blocks in Iran — over content being spread on the platform that the regime dislikes. Last summer the Indonesian government also used blocks to wring content-related concessions out of Telegram. But it remains to be seen whether the company will agree to any concessions to get the Russian block removed. Durovs first response suggests it has no intention of backing down over encryption. Telegrams lawyer, Pavel Chikov, has also described the move by the Russian authorities as unconstitutional — and claimed it cannot be fulfilled technically and legally. Meanwhile, the messaging platform announced last month it now has more than 200 million monthly active users globally. And while Durov claims not to care about money he is in the midst of a billion dollar ICO, raising money via a token sale to develop a crypto currency and blockchain platform. Reuters suggests some Russians will seek to circumvent the block via the use of VPN technology.