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Telegram CEO Defends New Privacy Policy, Says User Data Still Safe

Telegram co-founder Pavel Durov
Telegram co-founder Pavel Durov

The founder of Telegram defended the company’s new privacy policy, insisting it would not result in turning over users’ data to Russian intelligence agencies but would also discourage extremists from using the secure-messaging app.

Pavel Durov’s comments to RFE/RL on August 28 came as Telegram faces increased pressure from Russian security agencies who have pressured the company to turn over the encrypted “keys.”

Those demands have worried users of the app, which is hugely popular in Russia, Iran, and other countries with authoritarian governments.

In April, a Moscow court ruled that regulators could block Telegram because of Durov’s refusal to turn over the encryption keys. That sparked protests in Moscow and elsewhere.

On August 28, the company announced a change in its privacy policy, allowing the possibility for turning over a user's Internet Protocol (IP) address and phone number if there was a court order that alleged a user had ties to extremism or terrorism.

Durov, a renowned Internet entrepreneur who left Russia under pressure in 2014 and now lives abroad, told RFE/RL that the policy change was sparked by the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, a sweeping regulation that came into effect this year governing how Internet companies store and use personal data.

“We previously had no real privacy policy and had to come up with one this summer to comply with” the EU policy, Durov said in a text message. “We haven't shared any terrorists' data with authorities yet, but our theoretical ability to do so is another measure we've taken to discourage terrorists from abusing our platform."

The company said there have been no such court orders to date.

The move to block Telegram -- which has met with mixed success -- has deepened concerns that the government is seeking to close avenues for dissent as President Vladimir Putin begins a new six-year term.

Pavel Chikov, a lawyer for Telegram, also defended the new policy.

"As representatives of Telegram, we have never denied the right and even the responsibility of the authorities to fight terrorism. On the contrary, they offered a civilized way: a judicial request in exchange for disclosure, and not even correspondence but only IP and phone number,” Chikov said.

“The interests of national security and inviolability of private life must be found. Telegram offers its own version. The FSB offered nothing,” he said.

With reporting by Current Time TV

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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