Russia Unblocks Telegram After Two-Year Ban

Russian censors said they have unblocked Telegram, ending a largely unsuccessful two-year effort to limit the app’s usage in the country.

Internet censor Roskomnadzor said it would lift the ban, imposed in 2018, after Russian-born founder Pavel Durov agreed to improve Telegram’s measures for moderating and removing “extremist propaganda”.

Russian authorities banned Telegram in April 2018 after the firm refused to provide secret services with access to encrypted chats, saying it was not technically possible for it to do so.

Some Russian media portrayed the move as a climbdown, a view not shared by Roskomnadzor.

Ban

“Roskomnadzor is dropping its demands to restrict access to Telegram messenger in agreement with Russia’s general prosecutor’s office,” the agency said in a statement.

In spite of the ban, which saw Roskomnadzor block some 16 million IP addresses, Telegram remained widely used in the country, increasing its Russian user base in the country from 10 million to 30 million.

The service is a popular way to access news channels and government departments, including the Russian Foreign Ministry and national coronavirus task-force, maintain official Telegram channels.

Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged in April that while actions to block the app had been carried out, “the situation de facto is different”.

‘Positive effect’

Responding to lawmakers’ efforts to unblock Telegram earlier this month, founder Durov said that making the app more easily available to Russians “would have a positive effect on innovation and national security”.

According to Russian news agency Interfax, Telegram did not hand over access to encrypted chats but cooperated on specific extremism-related requests.

Russia is moving forward with plans for a “sovereign internet”, approved last year, that gives censors more powers to filter and block online traffic.

Aside from Russia’s FSB security service, Western governments have also criticised Telegram for being slow to bar hate and extremist content.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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