Germany May Close Down Telegram, Minister Warns

Shutting down popular messaging service Telegram in Germany cannot be ruled out, Interior Minister warns, amid battle over pandemic restrictions

Mobile messaging app Telegram could face the possibility of being closed down in Germany – at least according to a German government minister.

Reuters alleged that the Telegram service is popular with far-right groups and people opposed to pandemic-related restrictions in the country.

And if it continues to be used to violate German law, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser reportedly said in remarks on Wednesday, Germany could shut it down.

Germany shutdown

“We cannot rule this out,” Faeser reportedly told Die Zeit weekly. “A shutdown would be grave and clearly a last resort. All other options must be exhausted first.”

Minister Faeser added that Germany was discussing with its partners in the European Union how to regulate Telegram.

But why pick on apps such as Telegram and others?

Well apps such as Signal, Telegram and Discord often tout their messaging apps as offering a more secure messaging service compared to the likes of WhatsApp, and Telegram in particular claims it will never share user data with government entities.

And this makes these apps more attractive for those engaging in illegal activities.

For example a BBC investigation in 2019 allegedly found encrypted apps were taking over from the dark web, as the venue of choice for exchanging criminal content.

The BBC investigators apparently found evidence that paedophiles were using apps such as Telegram and Discord to give people access to child abuse material.

Even more concerning was that links to these Telegram groups were allegedly hiding in plain sight and could be located in the public comments section of YouTube videos.

Apparently those links in the Youtube comment section contain code words that are indexed by search engines. If users click on these links, they are then taken to the closed group (usually a chatroom where illegal material can be shared).

Moving HQ

Telegram was founded in 2013 in Russia, but left the country in 2014 amid pressure from President Putin and his allies.

It is now said to be used by over 500 million active users. The app is popular because it provides an ultra-secure way to quickly upload and share videos, texts and voice messages.

It makes use of so called “Channels”, which is a tool that allows users to broadcast their messages to large audiences.

Channels have an unlimited number of members, and they can be public with a permanent URL and each post in a channel has its own view counter.

Telegram used to be headquartered in Berlin between 2014 and 2015, but now does not disclose where it rents offices or which legal entities it uses to rent them, citing the need to “shelter the team from unnecessary influence” and protect users from governmental data requests.

In 2017 the Telegram team were said to be based Dubai, which is where Wikipedia lists it currently having its operational headquarters.

Wikipedia also lists Telegram as being headquartered in London, where its legal domicile is based.

Needed Privacy

Despite the bad publicity, encrypted apps such as Signal and others have been strongly backed by notable figures in the tech industry including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In 2017 the founder of Telegram Pavel Durov reiterated his well known stance against the sharing of confidential data with government entities, amid pressure on the service from Russian officials.

Russian authorities previously accused Telegram of enabling terrorists to communicate in secret through the encrypted messaging, and even blamed the app for concealing the messages of the suicide bomber who killed 15 people in St Petersburg in April 2017.

The app is also known to have been used by Islamic State for propaganda purposes in the past, especially by those based in Russia.

But Telegram has clamped down on these terrorist accounts and deleted at least 78 broadcast channels affiliated with Islamic State.