Russian authorities may have a new inroad to bring down a popular messaging service developed in the country – called Telegram – following the investigation into a suicide bombing that took place back in April. According to the Russian security agency, the FSB, Telegram played a significant role in the planning and execution of that attack – which left 15 people dead. The app has already drawn negative attention in Russia due mostly to how the application handles user privacy. Moreover, the Russian government claims that the company responsible for creating the free messaging application have not provided company details for registration. The company's CEO, Pavel Durov, has continued to decry government requests. According to Durov, shutting down the service or banning it would force the current user base of around 100 million users to turn to U.S.-based communications applications "like WhatsApp." Going a step further, Durov concludes that complying with state demands would paradoxically compromise user privacy.
For its part, the FSB says that Telegram was used in every stage of preparation for the bombing that took place in the Saint Petersburg metro. Furthermore, it says the app was used by "the suicide bomber, his accomplices, and their mastermind abroad." Durov, at the time of the attacks, had said that the application had consistently "protected" user privacy and would not "make deals with any government." Durov also claimed that it isn't just Russian citizens who use the application, but also "high-ranking Russian officials."
The case Russian authorities are leveling against Telegram, which is founded in the U.S. despite being more popular in Russia and designed with Russians in mind, is hardly the only case they are making. Rather, it is a case being made on a much wider scale as part of efforts which began on January 1, which force data stored at Russian data centers to be handed over to authorities upon request. Another piece of legislation is also under development that would make it illegal for any messaging or communication application or service to allows for anonymous use. Telegram, with its huge install base and services that allow for video, photo, and message sharing between individuals in groups of up to 5,000 people, just happens to be a very visible target. Both sides of this debate have valid points and it is, as Durov says, very paradoxical. One this is certain. Whether the application was used in the April attack or not, user privacy remains high on the agenda for many people and corporations. That debate doesn't appear to be about to end anytime soon.