''Roskomnadzor's claim to Telegram should be taken seriously…''

Realnoe Vremya experts disagree on whether it will be possible to block the popular messenger from a technical point of view

''Roskomnadzor's claim to Telegram should be taken seriously…'' Photo: Timur Rakhmatullin

The confrontation between Telegram and Russian authorities has reached the key phase: Roskomnadzor has filed a lawsuit to block the messenger in Russia. Experts note that such a case takes place for the first time in the Russian legal field but disagree on whether the blocking is feasible from a technical point of view. The most active users have already taken care of blocking bypass tools. Read more in the material of Realnoe Vremya.

Telegram's deadline has already expired

Roskomnadzor appealed to the court to block the messenger Telegram in Russia on 6 April. The claim was filed in the Tagansky district court of Moscow.

The agency's message clarifies that the claim was filed ''in connection with the detection by the FSB of Russia of the failure to comply with the obligations of the organizer of information dissemination by Telegram Messenger Limited Liability Partnership'', that is, because Telegram did not fulfill the requirements of the law on provision the FSB with the keys to decrypt the messages.

Earlier, Telegram already sued the FSB concerning this requirement. In October 2017, the messenger was fined 800,000 rubles for refusing to provide keys for decryption. On December 12, 2017, the Meshchansky court of Moscow recognized the court's decision in this case as legal.

On March 20, the Supreme Court of Russia again refused Telegram to recognize the order of the FSB of the Russian Federation, establishing the procedure of providing the department with the keys to decode electronic messages of the Internet users, as invalid. Roskomnadzor gave Telegram 15 days to fulfill the request of the FSB. In case of refusal, the agency threatened to block the access to the messenger. This deadline expired on April 4.

Roskomnadzor appealed to the court to block the messenger Telegram in Russia on 6 April in the Tagansky district court of Moscow. Photo: constmb.ru

A step forward in Russian justice system

Let us remind that the interests of Telegram Messenger Limited Liability Partnership, the owner of the messenger, are represented in Russian courts by lawyers of the human rights group Agora. The head of Agora, Pavel Chikov, in his Telegram channel explained that the lawyers of the messenger had no claim in their hands yet, there was no information on the website of the court yet either.

The Telegram's position remains the same — the FSB's requirements to provide access to private correspondence of the users are unconstitutional, not based on the law, technically and legally unfeasible, therefore, the blocking requirement is also unreasonable, the message reads.

Ramil Akhmetgaliev, the attorney of Telegram, in conversation with Realnoe Vremya indicated that the procedure, according to which Roskomnadzor goes to court, exists only from 1 January 2018.

''Roskomnadzor for the first time submits such statement of claim. So we need to understand what arguments they give, what is indicated in the pleading part. How it will develop and what arguments will be given… We are not dreamers, after all, but lawyers, we will start from the corresponding statement of claim and appendices. For now, we are waiting for a copy of these documents, as soon as we receive the detailed position will be stated and brought to the public,'' he declared.

Nikolay Nikiforov, the minister of telecom and mass communications, also emphasized that the situation with Telegram messenger is really unique in the Russian practice.

''There had never been such enforcement previously, no one really knows for sure how it should work correctly. I really hope that it will be considered in a court because the court decision in a sense will confirm or disprove these or those regulations, which exist today in legal acts,'' Interfax quotes the words of the minister.

The issue of technical feasibility of encryption keys provision is also a subject for discussion, Nikiforov added. ''Indeed, there is a certain discussion: whether there is something to provide. It is necessary to wait for official consideration of these procedures, perhaps it will be necessary to change something in the regulations,'' the minister stated.

Nikolay Nikiforov emphasized that the situation with Telegram messenger is really unique in Russian practice. Photo: Maksim Platonov

''Most ridiculous stories in Russia should be taken seriously''

Internet ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev called the blocking of Telegram messenger technologically complex, adding that it would create inconvenience for the users.

''For example, unavailability of apps in e-store, inconvenience in passing messages in the service can cause some rejection from the users,'' Marinichev said, adding that ''a group of apologists of the service will remain in any case and will use it because there will be new mechanisms, applications, proposed by developers that will allow to solve any problems… It will be a war of shields and swords, meaningless and illogical to some extent,'' Marinichev said.

But the adviser to the president of the Russian Federation on Internet development, German Klimenko, noted that after blocking 90% of Runet users would lose the access to the messenger. In this regard, he recommended everyone to switch to the domestic product — ICQ messenger (the development of Russian Mail.ru Group).

''I like ICQ. It is a full-fledged messenger, not inferior to Telegram from the point of view of average user,'' said Klimenko.

Also, the Roskomnadzor's claim was commented on Twitter by editor-in-chief of RT Margarita Simonyan. She is sure that Telegram will definitely be blocked in Russia. ''Progressive public wonder: will they block Telegram? What do your sources say?'' they will, may friends, definitely. Don't even hesitate. And we will be sad about it, of course,'' she wrote.

Klimenko noted that after blocking 90% of Runet users would lose the access to the messenger. In this regard, he recommended everyone to switch to the domestic product — ICQ messenger. Photo: kremlin.ru

Yekaterina Vinokurova, a Russian journalist, special correspondent at Znak.com, also expressed her point of view on possible blocking of Telegram in the conversation with the correspondent of Realnoe Vremya.

''The claim of Roskomnadzor to Telegram should be taken seriously — at least because the most ridiculous stories in Russia should be taken seriously. Let's remember the same decision of Ust-Labinsk district court on Deripaska and Nastya Rybka. There is no difference here, the Basmanny district court of Moscow — it is already a household name (the claim has been submitted to Tagansky district court of Moscow – editor's note).

As for me, I have already downloaded everything I need to keep Telegram working. But in general, Telegram blocking is an insanely funny story, starting with the fact that conference calls [of press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation] Dmitry Peskov, as we know, are announced via Telegram, and ending with the fact that most of the officials communicate through Telegram. The officials are interested in anonymity,'' Vinokurova said.

By the way, the situation with the possible blocking of Telegram was commented by the press secretary of Russia, Dmitry Peskov. ''Telegram is very convenient, we use it to communicate with journalists. It would be very unfortunate if the consensus is not reached. But the law is the law. We will look for an alternative,'' said the press secretary of the president of Russia.

''There are no other adequate platforms''

Realnoe Vremya also asked the authors of a number of popular Telegram channels in Russia to comment. The situation was commented by the staff of the political Telegram channel Metodichka.

''The filed lawsuit is a logical continuation of the state's attack on the messenger, which is already lasting for a year. We have repeatedly written that it will be so. The reason for blocking is not in terrorist threat, but in uncontrolled dissemination of information. In the first place through Telegram channels. The saddest thing about this story is that administrators of large state-controlled channel like Nezygar and its clones all the while have been trying to convince its audience that nothing bad will happen and nobody will block it. These people also bear part of the responsibility for what is happening. The chances of full blocking is very high, but the exact date of its implementation is difficult to call,'' reads the response of the channel.

''Here in Tatarstan, we have a feature of dissemination of information, which once was voiced by Alexander Terentyev (on the photo): screenshots and copied texts from our channel are dissimilated through Whatsapp and social networks, and nobody knows how to fight it. Photo: kpfu.ru

The team Neudashchi, one of the first Telegram channels about Tatarstan, said it would continue to work after the blocking as well, active users will find a loophole anyway.

''The expected Telegram blocking is an unpleasant thing, but not fatal. The most active users will continue to use it through proxy or VPN, the blocking won't make them refuse from the usual and convenient communication channel. Here in Tatarstan, we have a feature of dissemination of information, which at the time was voiced by Alexander Terentyev (deputy head of Tatarstan president administration – editor's note): screenshots and copied texts from our channel are dissimilated through Whatsapp and social networks, and nobody knows how to fight it. We are not planning to terminate the work,'' said the authors of the channels to Realnoe Vremya.

The Telegram channel Brechalov's Glasses, dedicated to the political situation in Udmurtia, spoke about how it will act in the event of blocking.

''Judging by scattered statements from different towers of the Kremlin, the final decision on blocking of TG hasn't been made. But right now, it's hard to guess. There are no other adequate platforms. We will carry out active explanatory work how to use TG through VPN. The transitions to the platforms FB and VK are possible,'' said the authors of the channel.

The Telegram channel Khamitov's Mustache, publishing 'the secrets of nitty-gritty of politics of Bashkiria', also shared its views on the claim of RKN to Telegram.

''The lawsuit is an attempt by the Roskomnadzor management to show that they do not in vain eat their bread on the eve of the formation of the new Cabinet. Thus Zharov, who the entire Telegram community ridicules for unsuccessful initiatives to block everything, trying to demonstrate 'efficiency','' said the authors of the channel.

''It is difficult to predict something [regarding the complete blocking of the messenger], but Roskomnadzor's experience in blocking different resources suggests that the agency cannot finish any of its initiative. Here it immediately comes to mind the attempts of Roskomnadzor to block torrent-trackers and Linked in. Users still download the files through the mirror site of blocked trackers, and in Linked through TOR browsers. We have not thought yet about what site we will go to if Telegram is blocked. Perhaps, we will create a site.''

The authors of the Telegram channel Nezygar did not give an assessment to the claim, expressing willingness to comment on the blocking itself when it happens.

The editorial board of Karaulny channel is sure that (despite the unfolding 'operetta') there will be no blocking that would significantly limit the work of the messenger in Russia. ''That is why we are not considering yet the use of VPN, or searching for other sites, holding the position of 'attending to problems as they emerge'.

By Aleksander Artemyev, Lina Sarimova
UdmurtiaTatarstan