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Russia orders Telegram to hand over users’ encryption keys

Encrypted messaging app Telegram has lost an appeal before Russia’s Supreme Court where it sought to block the country’s Federal Security Service (FSB) from gaining access to user data, as reported by Bloomberg.

Last year, the FSB asked Telegram to share its encryption keys and the company declined, resulting in a $14,000 fine. Today, Supreme Court Judge Alla Nazarova upheld that ruling and denied Telegram’s appeal. Telegram plans to appeal the latest ruling as well.

If Telegram is found to be non-compliant, it could face another fine and even have the service blocked in Russia, one of its largest markets. According to Telegram’s lawyer, a separate court ruling and action from communications regulator Roskomnadzor would be required in order to actually block the service.

In 2016, Russia enacted laws to combat terrorism, which required messaging services to provide authorities with the ability to decrypt user correspondence. Telegram has challenged this decision, but the FSB’s position is that access to encryption keys doesn’t violate users’ privacy since they do not contain information about an individual, and any data collected using keys would still require a court order.

“The FSB’s argument that encryption keys can’t be considered private information defended by the Constitution is cunning,” says Ramil Akhmetgaliev, Telegram’s lawyer. “It’s like saying, ‘I’ve got a password from your email, but I don’t control your email, I just have the possibility to control.’”

Telegram recently raised $850 million in preparation to launch an initial coin offering, or ICO, and is looking to conduct another private presale in hopes of bringing the total raised to over $1.6 billion. The company is proposing what it calls the Telegram Open Network, or TON, an Ethereum-like ecosystem with apps, services, and a store for digital and physical goods.

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