The mayor of Khabarovsk felt indignant at seeing the memes. On September 4, Sergey Kravchuk reported to the police a little known Telegram channel for making fun of him and his colleagues. In doing so, he promoted the channel called Vorsin Memes, which at that time, had only 114 subscribers. Towards the end of September, the anonymous opposition channel reached 2100 subscribers. The most important point is that Kravchuk should never have used the encrypted messaging service.
It's because Telegram is banned in Russia, supposedly. In June 2017, Roskomnadzor – state communications supervisor of Russia – ordered Telegram to comply with a request to hand over its encryption keys to FSB, Russia's national security services. When Pavel Durov, founder of Telegram and the popular Russian social network VKontakte, refused to comply, a Moscow court ordered that Telegram be blocked (Durov had already fled Russia in 2014, after having to cede VKontakte to companies linked to the Kremlin ).
Then, on April 18, 2018, Roskomnadzor ordered Russian internet service providers to comply with the ban. Then came the disaster: by blocking IP addresses that are commonly used by the encrypted messaging application, dozens of other sites were affected. Users of online services provided by Google, Amazon and Spotify, among others, reported failures in the service. But it didn't end there; The websites of universities, media and even Roskomnadzor himself had interrupations. Even the state entity Sberbank sent instructions to its workers on how to evade the blockade. At the end of April, more than 12,000 people attended a protest in Moscow against Roskomnadzor and in support of digital freedoms.
The power that local governments have over information technologies is based on money. At any time, a government can destroy its actions and threaten to block revenue streams from its markets and thus force these companies to do strange things (remember how in recent years Apple moved the iCloud servers to China).
At Telegram, we have the luxury of not worrying about revenue streams or advertising sales. Privacy is not for sale, and human rights should not be compromised by fear or greed.
More than a year later, Telegram progresses in Russia, where it has approximately 14 million users. Roskomnadzor has unlocked the IP addresses that bothered users of other online services. State officials used it freely; Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov admitted without reservation using the application and Margarita Simonyan, manager of the Russia Today (RT) news network, openly in favor of the Kremlin, is an avid Telegram user. Russia's political elite appears divided over the blockade; In September, the ombudsman for human rights of Russia, Tatyana Moskalova, came to affirm her opposition and urged a “compromise” as a solution.
The commitment made sense. In April, a TGStat study revealed that 48% of platform users in Russia had no problems accessing Telegram, nor did they have to use virtual private networks or other techniques. Only 5% said they had no access to Telegram, and the rest did so with free or paid proxy servers or private virtual networks. What makes it so popular?
Since its creation in 2013, Telegram has come to offer more than private messaging: its users can create public “channels” or news sources in which they can publish updates to tens of thousands of subscribers. These channels cover everything from celebrity gossip and movies to language lessons, fashion and, of course, many memes. It is important to mention that many Russian news publications now have their own Telegram channels.
And although Telegram may not be as secure as many believe, the availability of end-to-end encryption for person-to-person chats (although this feature does not come by default) attracts influential bloggers, journalists and political commentators with something critical to say or They need to communicate with sources without interception. These include blogger Ilya Varlamov, journalist Pavel Pryanikov, who manages the KrasnyZion channel, Pavel Chikov, director of the Russian human rights NGO Agora, Sergey Smirnov of MediaZona, Anton Orekh of Ekho Moskvy (who administers Antony Nut), the writer and columnist Oleg Kashin, and radio personality Aleksandr Plushchev (PLUSHEV). In 2017, Kashin and Plushchev tried to sue FSB for their attempts to request Telegram encryption keys. For the opposition of Russia and for critically minded journalists, the platform is more popular than the committed VKontakte, in which some users have been prosecuted for their online political statements.
In addition, the ability to manage channels anonymously adds some intrigue to Telegram. The Nezygar channel, for example, has 250,000 subscribers and the most debated given the controversy over the identity of its owner. Blogger StalinGulag, whose identity was revealed by journalists in 2018, also manages an extremely popular channel. Some anonymous political channels are presented as superior sources with exclusive political data, in addition, Telegram, full of “dark public relations” is not necessarily an objective source of information. As revealed by a Proekt.Media investigation in December 2018, since the blockade, the platform has been at the center of a concerted effort by spokespersons related to the Kremlin to infiltrate and discredit opposition members, spread disinformation quickly between channels and buy The total of the channels. As it turned out, Telegram was able to achieve the first without the help of the authorities:
Like other governments trying to take strong measures against encrypted communication platforms, Russian officials, such as Alexander Bortnikov, head of the FSB, have also tried to present Telegram's refusal to cooperate as a gift to terrorists. Although there is evidence that the platform is used by far-right extremists and Islamists, many RuNet users have overlooked this line. The popular vloguero Ruslan Usachev commented sarcastically:
Но стоит признать, что блокировка телеграма сработала. Я шел сегодня домой и по пути ни одного терроризма не встретил.
– Руслан Усачев (@RuslanUsachev) April 16, 2018
It should be recognized that the Telegram lock has worked. I was going home today and did not meet any terrorist along the way.
This cynicism about the reasons for the blockade seems to be widely shared. As Andrey Pertsev wrote for the Carnegie Moscow website in April, the Telegram ban has politicized many Russians, as the state has meddled in a “gray zone” of public expression appreciated by many Russians who are not politically active. Instead of continuing with their gossip and memes, Pertsev writes, they are now actively spreading ways to avoid the ban, prompting them to discuss whether it is fair. This is an important point in the light of Russia's controversial impulse towards a “sovereign Internet”, which became law on November 1.
This means that the Russian Telegram block is coded in a larger project to control RuNet. Consequently, although Roskomnadzor officials seemed surprised by the force of public resistance to the ban, they do not give up. On October 8, the head of the organization, Alexander Zharov, acknowledged that the old blocking system was ineffective and announced that a new system was being designed. “Within a year, we will have something to say,” said Zharov. His colleagues in the Russian Ministry of Communications do not share this optimism; In comments of the same month, Deputy Minister Alexey Volin questioned the effectiveness of the blockade and assured the Russians that the use of Telegram is not illegal in itself.
An admission of defeat? Maybe. Sarkis Darbinyan, director of Roskomsvoboda, a Russian NGO fighting for digital freedoms, told RuNet Echo that he is skeptical about the progress of the blockade:
Неудача в деле блокировки Telegram – это, без сомнений, демонстрация правоприменительной импотенции россий Stock Photos За прошедший год, что Telegram находится под запретом, стало очевидно, что Роскомнадзор и операторы связи абсолютно не готовы блокировать веб-сервисы и приложения, которая отказываются исполнять российские законы и сотрудничать с отечественными спецслужбами. Думаю, одной из причин принятия в мае 2019 года Федерального закона № 90-ФЗ, также известного как “закон о суверенном интернете” было желание лучше блокировать такие сервисы как Telegram.
Но мне кажется, это будет долгая игра в “кошки-мышки”. Сервисы будут продолжать заниматься постоянной ротацией IP-адресов, прятаться за инфраструктурой гигантов вроде и Google Amazon, а также использовать возможности стеганографии для того чтобы мимикрировать свой трафик под что-то другое, что блокировать российские власти не решатся.
А пока будет продолжаться это техническое противостояние, я думаю ЕСПЧ уже рассмотрит и жалобу самого Telegram и жалобы пользователей мессенджера которые были поданы нами в рамках кампании “Битва за Telegram”. Я не сомневаюсь в успехе дела. Вопрос доступа к шифрованным коммуникациям и права человека на использование криптографии сейчас актуален не только для России, но и для всего Совета Европы. И если Россия откажется соблюдать международные стандарты и исполнять решения ЕСПЧ, все это может обернуться для российских властей негативными санкционными и дипломатическими проблемами.
Not being able to block Telegram is undoubtedly a demonstration of the impotence of the Russian authorities in applying their own directives. During the year that passed after the Telegram ban, it has become clear that neither Roskomnadzor nor telecommunications operators are willing to block web services or applications that refuse to comply with Russian legislation and cooperate with secret services. I believe that one of the reasons for the adoption of Federal Law 90-FZ in May, also known as the “sovereign internet law”, was the desire to block services such as Telegram more effectively.
I think it will be a long game of cat and mouse. The services will continue to constantly rotate their IP addresses, hiding behind the infrastructure of technology giants such as Google and Amazon, and will also use techniques such as steganography to smuggle their traffic under cover of something that the Russian authorities would not dare to block.
Meanwhile, this technical stalemate will continue. I think that the European Court of Human Rights will consider both the complaints of Telegram itself and those of its users, which we have presented as part of our “Battle for Telegram” campaign. I have no doubt that we will succeed. The issue of access to encrypted communications and the human right to use encryption is of importance not only for Russia, but for the entire Council of Europe. If Russia refuses to comply with international standards and simply refuses to comply with the sentences of the European Court of Human Rights, it could have negative consequences for Russian authorities, from diplomatic problems to sanctions.
If Russia manages to block Telegram, the question arises as to what social media networks will be then in the sights of the authorities. After all, Facebook and Twitter have already refused to comply with Moscow's requests to host data on Russian servers located in Russia.
How prepared is the Kremlin to compete with the technology giants for the sake of its “sovereign internet”?