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Durov refuses to hand over Telegram encryption keys to FSB

CEO Pavel Durov continued to assert that Telegram encryption keys will not be shared with the FSB, despite the Russian Supreme Court denying the company's appeal.

A long battle between Telegram and the Russian government received a judgment from the Russian Supreme Court, but the company's CEO continued to assert he would not hand over Telegram encryption keys.

The Russian Supreme Court ruled that Telegram encryption keys must be provided to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) within 15 days of the ruling on March 20, or the messaging platform could be banned in Russia.

The battle began in July 2017 when Telegram CEO Pavel Durov received an order from the FSB to provide "information necessary to decode users' sent, received, delivered and processed electronic messages." Durov then claimed the FSB demanded backdoor access to the app, and when the company refused, a formal complaint was filed.

In October 2017, a Russian court fined Telegram 800,000 rubles -- approximately $14,000 at the time -- for failing to provide encryption keys to law enforcement, and the company filed an appeal to avoid providing Telegram encryption keys.

The Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday marks the final judgement on that appeal. The court determined the Telegram encryption keys would not infringe on user privacy rights. But experts like Gus Coldebella, principal litigator at Fish and Richardson and former general counsel of the Department of Homeland Security, were skeptical of this reasoning.

"FSB implausibly claims holding Telegram's encryption keys doesn't affect the privacy of users' messages, because it would still have to obtain a court order to access them. #yeahright," Coldebella wrote on Twitter. "Will the FSB not access Telegram communications without a court order? For that matter, will Russian courts uphold the rule of law and reject FSB requests? Not a chance."

Durov claimed Telegram -- whose base of operations has continually moved in order to "shelter the team from unnecessary influence" and is currently based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates -- would continue to resist Russian court orders.

Security researcher Kenn White noted that Telegram encryption keys are stored by the company, while other messaging apps do not store such customer keys.

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