''We will act in accordance with the law'': Russia begins blocking access to Telegram

Moscow's Tagansky District Court satisfied the claim of Roskomnadzor to block access to Telegram last Friday, the process was launched on April 16. Starting at noon Russian users began to complain that they could not get access to both mobile and desktop versions of the messenger, in addition to this, some users couldn't open the tool for articles from Telegram — Telegra.ph. Realnoe Vremya found out customers of what operators have already been affected by the blocking, whether it is true that Russian users are massively discovering for themselves the means to bypass blocked sites, and how popular Telegram channels (including pro-government ones) reacted to the blocking of the messenger.

How the blocking started

The web addresses web.telegram.org and t.me, which Telegram uses, have been added to the register of banned websites of Roskomnadzor on Friday, April 13. On the same day, the head of Roskomnadzor, Aleksander Zharov, stated that the blocking of Telegram in Russia would begin ''in the near future'', but did not specify a date: ''Imagine, there is fighting around and you ask, ''When will you start the attack?'' Well, in the near future. When I will attack — I will not tell.''

The blockage began on Monday. At about noon, the official website of Roskomnadzor posted the following message: ''Roskomnadzor has received the decision of the Moscow's Tagansky District Court on restriction of the access in the territory of Russia to the Internet resources of the organizer of distribution of information, Telegram Messenger Limited Liability Partnership. In this regard, the information on these Internet resources was sent to the operators on Monday, April 16, in order to limit the access.''

After that, posts about problems with access to the mobile and web versions of Telegram began to appear on the Internet. According to the resource Downdetector, tracking failures in the work of popular services, at the initial stage, most of the problems with access were from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Samara and Yekaterinburg. Slightly fewer complaints were received from Kazan, Ufa, Nizhny Novgorod, Omsk and Novosibirsk.

On Friday, April 13, Aleksander Zharov reported that Telegram blocking in Russia would begin ''in the nearest time''. Photo: rkn.gov.ru

The reaction of mobile operators

The users who didn't have access to Telegram immediately began to contact representatives of mobile operators for clarification (including through social networks). Almost all companies confirmed that they had begun to fulfil the requirement of Roskomnadzor.

For example, MTS official account on Twitter informed the user that the access to Telegram was limited by a court decision: ''The decision is made by the controlling body, we are executing it.'' Yota also responded to the question of a user why Telegram was not working: ''Hello! The access to this resource was blocked by a court decision. Yota is a law-abiding company and strictly complies with the court's decision.'' Tele2 made a rather short comment at the request of Realnoe Vremya: ''We will act in accordance with the Russian legislation. We do not comment on details yet.'' In turn, Beeline told one of its customers that in the future access to the application would be really limited. The customers of MegaFon also reported that they could not download the application, but did not receive any response from the operator.

The users who didn't have access to Telegram immediately began to contact representatives of mobile operators for clarification. Photo: Oleg Shishlov (tv-gubernia.ru)

The reaction of Telegram channels

It was expected that anonymous Telegram channels and popular users of Telegram reacted to the blocking. Commenting on the situation to Realnoe Vremya, the channel Nebrekhnya stated: ''Nebrekhnya is not planning to move to any other sites. We are for freedom of speech and free access to information, so we express ourselves obscenely against Roskomnadzor because of the circus with horses, which was arranged for the fun of the public. Everyone understands that officials of the designated office are making money on the blocking, and not even Usmanov, who is accused on mass advertising of his messenger TamTam.''

Also, at the request of Realnoe Vremya, the situation was commented by the authors of the anonymous Telegram channel ''Nizhny Novgorod deer'':

''We still do not understand what was the purpose of the lobbyists of Telegram blocking, but if it's opening for the masses of forbidden Internet — it has turned out to be brilliant. As a result of one such ill-conceived decision, we will receive additional several million active users of VPN and proxy servers in Russia. Now the users of VPN and proxy servers have an opportunity not only to read quite harmless Telegram, but also there is a temptation to visit extremist websites, and also to start studying further opportunities of the hidden Internet, including Darknet,'' the authors of the channel consider. ''And if we take the fact that Facebook and WhatsApp, which leak the correspondence of its users to the US intelligence agencies, will become more popular in the wake of Telegram blocking, the picture turns out to be not really great. I would like to believe that it's just a mistake, not a betrayal.''

Dmitry Kolezev posted on his channel: ''I do not know who went to ICQ. Several of my contacts from AP continue to be on Telegram.'' Photo: e1.ru

Of course, there are also those who decided to move from their Telegram channel after the Friday court decision. For example, the channel of United Russia announced the move from Telegram to other sites.

By the way, speaking of leaving of pro-government channels as well as Russian officials from Telegram. Deputy chief editor of Znak.com, Dmitry Kolezev, posted on his channel: ''I do not know who went to ICQ. Several of my contacts from AP continue to be on Telegram.''

Pavel Durov's response and the results from Agora

The head of the international human rights group Agora, Pavel Chikov, stated: ''On October 16, 2017, the magistrate court of the area 383 of the Meshchansky district of Moscow on Monday fined Telegram Messenger LLP (London) 800,000 rubles for refusing to provide the FSB with encryption keys of the correspondence. The next day, Pavel Durov instructed us to represent the interests of the messenger in the case. He set the task at least to delay the decision to block at least until the end of 2017. <… > Anyway, blocking was succeeded to be delayed exactly for 6 months, and from the moment of the filing of the first request of FSB it has been 9 months. Tens of thousands of publications about the situation have been published in the media. The issue of the inviolability of private correspondence was on the agenda. We consider the first stage of our work to be finished, but there are still many important steps ahead. The enforcement authorities have no chance of defeating the progress.''

The creator of Telegram, Pavel Durov, also spoke about the start of the blocking, but chose a different platform — his page on Vkontakte: ''This morning, the Russian authorities began to block Telegram, so the service may be unstable of some operators. The consequences of the blocking: 1. The quality of life of 15 million Russians will deteriorate as Telegram without VPN may be occasionally unavailable. 2. The terrorist threat in Russia will remain at the same level as extremists will continue to use encrypted communication channels — in other messengers or via VPN. 3. National security of Russia will decrease as part of the personal data of Russians will move from the neutral to Russia site to controlled from the US WhatsApp / Facebook. We believe the decision to block to be anti-constitutional and we will continue to defend the right to privacy of correspondence of the Russians.''

Pavel Chikov: ''We consider the first stage of our work to be finished, but there are still many important steps ahead. The enforcement authorities have no chance of defeating the progress.'' Photo: youtube.com

Ineffective blocking?

The head of Roskomnadzor, Aleksander Zharov, said on April 16 that Roskomnadzor would send requests to App Store and Google Play with the requirement to delete Telegram. In addition, Roskomnadzor was going to block the tools to bypass the blocking of Telegram at the request of ''the authorities with functions of operational and investigative activities.''

Speaking of VPN and other bypasses: previously, Realnoe Vremya experts had already predicted that the Telegram audience would not decrease – the number of users to bypass the blocking will only increase. Apparently, so it is happening: despite the beginning of the blocking, many Russian users continue to be on Telegram as if nothing has happened.

Also, the curious statistics were published by Vedomosti. As the publication managed to find out, the number of bot installations for Telegram Socks5 Bot in Russia previously reached 2,000 per day, but against the background of the threat of blocking Telegram it has increased dramatically. So, on April 11, more than 7,000 new users installed the proxybot, and on Thursday, April 12, more than 67,000. In turn, only two weeks ago Veesecurity had about 9,000 users of the proxy server, but now the customer base amounts to 1,5 million.

By Lina Sarimova