A Russian court has made it easier for the government to block the Telegram messaging app after its creators refused to turn over access to its users’ encrypted messages.
According to The New York Times, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s state communications watchdog, requested the authority to block the app’s use in Russian territories. The group explained that authorities need to be able to decrypt messages sent by potential terrorists, but Telegram missed an April 4 deadline to turn over keys that would make that possible.
The court didn’t take long to agree, granting the request after just 18 minutes of deliberation. Telegram lawyers declined to attend the hearing in protest. The ruling now makes it possible for Russian communications regulators to order the country’s ISPs to block the Telegram protocol or Telegram servers on their networks.
The news comes one month after Telegram lost a lawsuit against Russia’s security agency, the FSB, which called the app the messenger of choice for “international terrorist organizations in Russia.” The agency claimed that Telegram was used by a suicide bomber who killed 15 people on a subway in St. Petersburg last year.
In 2016, the Kremlin supported an anti-terrorism law that required authorities to be given backdoor access to encrypted applications.
But Telegram claims its app is developed so that it is impossible to provide authorities with a universal key that decrypts end-user messages. And in an online statement, Telegram founder Pavel Durov said the government lacked the ability to punish his company for its noncompliance.
“At Telegram, we have the luxury of not caring about revenue streams or ad sales,” Durov, a Russian who fled the country in 2014, wrote. “Privacy is not for sale, and human rights should not be compromised out of fear or greed.”
Telegram has the right to appeal the ruling, which could take anywhere from 10 days to one month.
The app, which reportedly has 200 million users, is widely used by lawyers, reporters and government officials, including those in President Vladimir Putin’s press office. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has announced that it is moving to the Viber messaging app.