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Telegram loses appeal to stop Russian spies from accessing user data

Russia’s Supreme Court has ordered encrypted messaging app Telegram to hand over encryption keys to the country’s security services.

According to a report from Bloomberg, the company has lost an appeal that would have stopped the Federal Security Service from accessing its encryption keys.

Last year, the Russian spy agency told the company to relinquish the encryption keys, allowing access to users’ messages. However, Telegram ignored this order and was told to pay a fine of $14,000.

On Tuesday, Judge Alla Nazarova rejected calls from Telegram to prevent security officials from collecting and analysing user data.

The firm’s lawyer, Ramil Akhmetgaliev, said Telegram intends to appeal the decision. He confirmed that the court proceedings could continue until the summer.

Over the past few years, the Putin administration has been trying to monitor electronic communications in what it says is a bid to fight terrorism. In 2016, it implemented a new law calling on firms to decrypt user data.

Telegram, which was set up by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, was one of the first companies to be targeted the ruling, but it claims that the law is unconstitutional because it bypasses the need for a court order.

When companies fail to comply with the law, they face hefty fines and having their applications blocked in the country. Russia is thought to be one of Telegram’s main markets.

Akhmetgaliev argued that Russian lawmakers would need to gain permission from communications regulator Roskomnadzor to block Telegram.

However, the security agency told the court that gaining access to Telegram’s encryption keys does not abuse user rights – it would need an additional court order to collect data.

Speaking to reporters following the hearing, Telegram’s lawyer said: “The FSB’s argument that encryption keys can’t be considered private information defended by the Constitution is cunning.

“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.”

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