Tech Companies: Don’t Help the Kremlin Block Telegram in Russia!

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On 16 April 2018 the Russian Internet censorship agency RosKomNadzor moved to block Telegram—to punish the messenger app for its refusal to hand over to the FSB (the KGB’s successor agency) master Telegram decryption keys. Telegram uses various resiliency features to maintain accessibility, but Russian users are increasingly reporting problems with Telegram functionality. According to media reports, RosKomNadzor has now requested that the Telegram app be removed from the Google and Apple smartphone app stores for Russian users. This would prevent new users from installing Telegram and existing ones from keeping it updated (which in itself raises security concerns).

Effectively, RosKomNadzor is trying to use international tech companies’ infrastructure to facilitate domestic censorship and to force other internet companies to surrender their users’ private information to law enforcement agencies which face no public oversight. Users may end up facing prosecution by the Russian government for any of many “thought crimes” ranging from criticizing the authorities to “LGBT propaganda.”

Not only is it dangerous for freedom of speech and privacy, but compliance with such requests will encourage censors in Russia to ever more aggressively use this method to constrain citizens’ freedom of communication and access to information. Inevitably, inter alia Google’s own Hangouts/Allo and Apple’s FaceTime/iMessage will experience similar pressures in the near future.

We call upon…

  1. core app store hosts (Google for Android, Apple for iOS) to take a principled stance and reject RosKomNadzor’s request to take down Telegram or otherwise facilitate its blocking, and
  2. major CDNs and cloud providers (Cloudflare, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Aliyun) to resist RosKomNadzor requests to constrain access to Telegram (and other) back ends which provide essential functionality supporting freedom of access to information and communication.

We must hold firm against government attempts to censor Internet access and encourage other companies to hold firm too. It is imperative that IT companies demonstratively adhere to “doing the right thing,” for which they will deservedly win praise from netizens worldwide for supporting freedom of communications and privacy.