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Russia lifts its ban on Telegram

The app has become an important way to share official COVID-19 updates.
Kris Holt, @krisholt
June 18, 2020
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ANKARA, TURKEY - JANUARY 12: Logo of Telegram is seen in front of flag of Russia in Ankara, Turkey on January 12, 2020. (Photo by Rasit Aydogan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Russia will no longer try to block messaging app Telegram after officials conceded it was an important means of sharing critical information, including updates about the COVID-19 pandemic. Telegram CEO Pavel Durov pledged to help combat terrorism and extremism, according to Bloomberg, leading to communications watchdog Roskomnadzor and the General Prosecutor’s office agreeing to drop the ban.

Before the regulators formally lifted the ban today, politicians had submitted a bill to dismiss the restrictions on Telegram. Earlier this month, Durov said his company has systems in place to "prevent terror acts across the globe" and has thwarted many thousands of attempts to share extremist content on the service -- all without compromising users' privacy. Telegram has been playing whack-a-mole with ISIS-related channels for years.

The ban wasn't totally effective in any case. In April 2018, a court ordered Russian telecoms to block the service because it refused to give the Federal Security Service encryption keys to access messages. Telegram has suggested that wouldn't really be possible, since encryption keys are stored on users' own devices and the company doesn't have them. Pavel's long held the stance that the FSB's demands violate citizens' constitutional right to private correspondence.

Telegram used various measures to avoid being blocked, including IP address changes. Russians continued to use the service anyway, including health department and Foreign Ministry officials. The country is sharing official updates about COVID-19 on Telegram. One verified channel through which it's doing so has almost 300,000 members.

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