Telegram: Online Civil War Erupts in Russia

On April 22nd one of the more symbolic protests in Russia to take place in recent years has rattled the Kremlin. Paper planes were thrown out of windows in Moscow in a show of solidarity behind the attempted ban of the encrypted messaging service app Telegram.

In an ongoing crisis that touches on many sensitive topics surrounding civil liberties, the communications regulator of Russia Roskomnadzor banned the app in a court order because Durov did not comply with its request to hand over its encryption keys.

However since its founder Durov rejected the request by the government, Roskomnadzor began banning IP addresses associated with the app in fact allegedly 17 million of them. Much to the chagrin of the state, Durov successfully managed to move hosts in a game of cat and mouse through to Amazon and Google, allowing users to access the service from the around the world.

As a consequence of this type of collateral damage many apps and services of Google including Gmail, Google Search and push notifications for Android apps have now been taken out of service. Banning this app has caused outrage in Russia where many high ranking officials are noted for using the app daily and have complained that it doesn’t serve the interest of the Russian public. However, since the ban came into effect most users of the app inside Russia which number around 12% have circumvented the ban by using VPNs and proxies.

Durov wrote  in a personal post, “I’m thrilled we were able to survive under the most aggressive attempt of internet censorship in Russian history,” he went on to say,  “Keep up your great work setting up socks5-proxies and VPNs and spreading them among your Russian friends and relatives,” he wrote. “They will be needed as the country descends into an era of full-scale internet censorship.”

Pavel Durov who has become a vocal critic of the Kremlin’s policies on internet and freedom and spends much of his time outside the state between London and Dubai.

This case mirrors very much the ensuing battle between state and tech companies, cue China’s Great firewall and FBI’s battle with Whatsapp. In an area that is directly aimed at the erosion of peoples privacy across the world, how governments will respond to these types of issues remains to be seen, is this more about control or keeping us safe?