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Telegram Blocks Channels That List Personal Data Of Russian Protesters, Law Enforcement


The head of Telegram has said that the popular messaging app has blocked several channels that posted the telephone numbers and addresses of people working for and against anti-government protests in Russia.

Writing on his own Telegram channel on February 5, Pavel Durov said that the channels in question contained information not only about participants in recent nationwide demonstrations, but also "judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, as well as journalists and media managers."

Many of the messages called for attacks against those targeted, which Durov said violated Telegram's policies prohibiting the incitement of violence.

Russian media reported that the move came after the country's telecommunications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, demanded that the information be blocked.

Telegram's reputation as a free-speech platform and use of encryption technology preventing surveillance by law enforcement has made it popular among opposition activists and demonstrators around the world.

In Russia, the app has been used by participants in recent anti-government demonstrations following the jailing of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.

Last year, Russia lifted a ban on Telegram that was imposed for more than two years after Durov refused to hand over encryption keys that authorities said were needed to fight terrorism. The Communications Ministry admitted that it was "technically impossible" to block the messaging app.

Durov said that use of the app had doubled since the ban, with 30 million* of its 400 million active users coming from Russia, and added that "we have decided to direct our anti-censorship resources into other places where Telegram is still banned by governments -- places like Iran and China."

Telegram's move to block channels broadcasting personal information comes as Russian authorities have taken steps to clamp down on social media used by anti-government demonstrators.

Shortly after rallies were held across the country on January 23 following Navalny's arrest upon his return from medical treatment abroad, Roskomnadzor said it would fine Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, VK, Odnoklassniki, and YouTube for failing to delete calls for people to attend the unsanctioned demonstrations, arguing that they would lead minors to break the law.

Roskomnadzor praised TikTok after it complied with the demand, and on February 6 the Russian Foreign Ministry registered its first TikTok account.

Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that the "developments of the past weeks sped up this process," but that the account was not "a fashion statement but simply information work."

The ministry's first posts were to tout the effectiveness of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19.

With reporting by Interfax
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly characterized the increase in Telegram's active users in Russia.
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