Russia has lifted its ban on the popular messaging app Telegram after two years of unsuccessful attempts to block it. This move followed the company’s agreement to provide support to Russia’s counter-terrorism efforts.
The federal communications watchdog of the country Roskomnadzor said in a statement, “As agreed with the Prosecutor General’s office, Roskomnadzor withdraws the demand to restrict access to the Telegram messenger.”
The Russian media named the move as a capitulation, but communications watchdog Roskomnadzor said. “We have acted in this manner because the app’s Russian founder, Pavel Durov, is prepared to cooperate in combating terrorism and extremism on the platform. We largely appreciate the company’s readiness to counter terrorism.”
The watchdog had begun blocking the Telegram app in agreement with a 2018 court order. Roskomnadzor wanted the service be restricted because of its alleged use by Islamic State terrorists.
Islamic State terrorists behind the November 2015 Paris attacks, which claimed 130 lives, used the app’s public channels to spread propaganda and other related content.
Durov has been in a tiff with Russia’s authorities over user privacy issues, ad Roskomnadzor demanded that Telegram should hand over certain information and the app’s encryption codes to be included on a government list of information distributors.
However, the company has, refused to hand over encryption keys, arguing that it would violate users’ rights to privacy and would not help weed out terrorists. Pavel Durov, Telegram’s founder had refused firmly citing violations of user privacy.
After the app was blocked in April 2018 it came back online within a few hours and has been widely used even by the Russian government officials. Some government agencies even kept running their official accounts in Telegram. Senior officials such as Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov continued using the app. The use of the app continued even during coronavirus spread. Even the Covid-19 task force operations in many Russian regions were using Telegram app for daily updates.
Pavel Durov, the founder, earlier this month had urged the authorities to lift the ban and allow its 30 million Russian users to use the service with ease and comfort. Durov also said that in recent years the Telergram team has significantly improved its tools taking care of the fact not to breach users’ privacy.
Telegram’s developers said, “We have increased our ability to spot and delete extremist content on the app without compromising the user privacy.”
Telegram was launched in 2013 by the brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov. Telegram is also banned in few other regions of the world partially or completely.