Pavel Chikov: FSB v Telegram

posted 13 Nov 2017, 06:13 by Website Service   [ updated 13 Nov 2017, 06:23 ]
18 October 2018

An interview with Pavel Chikov of the Agora Human Rights Association [extract]

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Svoboda]

Lawyers from the human-rights group Agora will represent the company Telegram in a legal case against the Federal Security Service (FSB). On October 16, the Moscow Magistrate's Court fined Telegram 800,000 roubles for refusing to give the FSB keys for decrypting users' messages. Telegram founder Pavel Durov intends to appeal this ruling and claims that the FSB's demands are not only technically impossible to meet, but they also go against the Constitution. […]

– What is the gist of the FSB's claims against Telegram? What is the background of this situation?

Pavel Chikov: In mid-July, the Federal Security Service filed a request with the British company TelegramMessenger LLP to provide data on several subscribers, several Telegram users who are allegedly suspected of terrorist activity. Telegram did not provide this data, since the data that was requested is encrypted using encryption keys. The FSB drew up a report on the failure to submit the data based on Article 13.31 of the Administrative Violations Code, and on 16 October, the magistrate pronounced the company guilty and issued a fine of 800,000 roubles.

– Pavel Durov says that it wasn't even technically possible, to provide the decryption keys. In that case, what is the FSB demanding?

Pavel Chikov: It's technically impossible to provide the decryption keys simply because these keys don't exist naturally. Because the keys are generated on the users' devices for each particular chat. To give you a rough idea, they're generated, people communicate, and afterwards the conversation ends. So Telegram doesn't have the technical capability to disclose the chats of any user, be it the concrete data the FSB requested or any other data. Essentially, it comes down to the FSB demanding the company create this capability, a so-called "back door," a kind of alternative way into the data or a kind of universal key, which would allow intelligence services to read the messages of any Telegram user. This completely defeats the purpose of the product itself. […]

– The government explains its desire to monitor people, to read their messages, by saying that it's necessary to improve safety, that it saves us from acts of terrorism. What do you think, how viable is this argument?

Pavel Chikov: Citing threats to national security as the basis for limiting constitutional rights and freedoms is a totally classic, standard, and technically legitimate argument from the government. Such threats are cited in the case of limiting people's rights and freedoms all over the world, and this is not a unique Russian plan. Moreover, all government enactments that regulate the rights and freedoms of a person allow for the government to limit rights and freedoms in the interest of national security. No one is disputing this right of the government. The question is: In this case, does the threat to national security really exist? Can it be removed by means other than intruding into the private lives of citizens? Where is the balance between limiting the interests of specific people who have the right to private conversations and the interests of the government, presumably acting in the interest of the state and public at large?

– You mentioned the FBI vs. Apple case. What do you think, in Russia, from a political point of view, is the situation possible in which the government backs off and Telegram and the general principle of Internet anonymity win?

Pavel Chikov: The issue of defending private lives and the privacy of correspondence and conversations is in fact very important and sensitive, including for the Russian government. Not only because every official who uses Telegram, WhatsApp, Viber, or other means of confidential communication is also potentially under attack, but because this implies that the Russian government is virtually claiming some kind of authoritarianism in the digital age. We live in a digital age, with artificial intelligence and all kinds of bitcoins and block-chains, and at the same time the Russian government is claiming absolute, all-out control and totalitarianism in the new digital world. This is a global threat to the entire digital future and structure of the world that is now forming. A question for the Russian government: Are they ready to challenge the entire world, for all intense and purposes? […]