back to article Russia tweaks Telegram with tiny fine for decryption denial

Encrypted messaging app Telegram must pay 800,000 roubles for resisting Russia's FSB's demand that it help decrypt user messages. The fine translates to just under US$14,000, making it less of a serious punishment and more a shot across the bows. However, it does seem to entrench the principle that the Federal Security …

  1. streaky Silver badge

    But..

    does seem to entrench the principle that the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) can demand decryption

    It also entrenches the principle that the Russian legal system isn't competent. Here's where this takes a turn for the silly:

    The governments in most western nations like to talk a good game on crypto, they like to engage in hacking via security services. They like to sabre rattle about backdoors. A case like this wouldn't pass the laugh test in a western court room.

    Why? Because western courts acknowledge the difference between choosing not to do something and not being able to do something. It's simply not possible (they could maybe ask Snowden for advice, given how much he trusts it) for telegram to decrypt user messages. Not without being backdoored anyway. It certainly isn't in the realms of possibility to do it retroactively, and that's why it wouldn't get through a court.

    And that kids, is why Russia will always be regarded as a banana republic.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: But..

      It also entrenches the principle that the Russian legal system isn't competent.

      Correct - it is not the competence you are looking for. Courts of first instance in Russian (and for that matter most Napoleonic law) systems follow the law to the letter. A similar case in any Eu country would have had a similar trajectory.

      The law says "fine for this" and they apply it. They do not deal with the fact that the law contradicts the constitution - that is matter for the high court and constitutional court. It is not dissimilar to the UK where magistrate courts do not set precedent while a jury one does.

      This is different from the customary USA constitutional legalfest where a village court can discuss the first, second, etc amendments taking "village court decisions".

      The more interesting bit is that Russia actually has privacy of all communications as a constitutional right. That is something we can only aspire to (even if it is just on paper and not backed up by reality).

      1. streaky Silver badge

        Re: But..

        It is not dissimilar to the UK where magistrate courts do not set precedent while a jury one does.

        This case would be nowhere near a magistrate in the UK.

      2. Marshalltown

        Re: But..

        "Village court..."

        Not sure where you are from, but plainly you never served on a jury in the US. There is no such entity as a "village court." In fact searching the term would lead you lead to real estate ads. US law follows the common law system inherited from Britain. A defense lawyer might try to nullify a jury using constitutional arguments, but the judge will instruct a jury according to law and statute. Any constitutional issue would be settled in a federal court or potentially the Supreme Court.

      3. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: But..

        "The more interesting bit is that Russia actually has privacy of all communications as a constitutional right."

        Which means nothing as Russia does not have Rule of Law anymore today than they did under the Soviet system. Trials of anything the State deems important are just for show, regardless of what the trolls from Olgino post here.

      4. Marshalltown

        Re: But..

        ' ... This is different from the customary USA constitutional legalfest where a village court can discuss the first, second, etc amendments taking "village court decisions"....'

        The US situation is such that any court decision that actually intrudes on a constitutional right can be reversed either by a higher state court or a transfer to a federal court which disagrees with the original decision and that disagreement becomes "precedent." The really problematic aspect arises when someone invokes the Ninth or Tenth Amendments. The Ninth essentially acknowledges that there are "rights" retained by "the people" which are not enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The states are not mentioned in the Ninth. Only the individual rights regarded as the most important are delimited in the BoR. More confusing though, the Tenth notes that rights which are not "delegated" to the Federal government or explicitly forbidden to the states by the Constitution are "... reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." That is nicely confusing, setting up a conflict between the states and their populations. If there were only the first nine amendments, there would no major issue about state's rights. Their "rights" would be limited to those granted by the constitution.

    2. Suricou Raven

      Re: But..

      The government will simply point out that, while Telegram really is unable to comply with the request, this is because they have taken deliberate action to make sure they are in that situation.

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: But..

      At least it went to court in Russia: the US spooks want to have access to the keys without even having involve the courts.

    4. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: But..

      The exact same thing would happen in the UK now under RIPA... if there were any businesses with e2e encrypted IM products silly enough to base themselves in the UK.

      1. Andy 97

        Re: But..

        You should write to your MP about encryption.

        I wrote to mine, the response was truly depressing.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: But..

          I wrote to mine, the response was truly depressing.

          I do not even need to write to mine. Hint - I live in a town where an MP does not get (re)elected if he is not at the exact opposite to May/Rudd.

          The previous two were a thorn in the side of Blair, Brown, Cameron and May. The current one is similarly not voting with his party and defying the party whip on anything that even remotely looks like another case of "swallowing Stalin".

          Unfortunately, as you noted, the truly depressing majority in the house of Commons is not far off from May/Rudd on that. This is not even "party lines" - it is "university towns vs the rest of the country".

  2. Lysenko

    It also entrenches the principle that the Russian legal system isn't competent. ...[snip]....

    Why? Because western courts acknowledge the difference between choosing not to do something and not being able to do something.

    Have you read the relevant legislation? I thought not. This ruling makes perfect sense (which doesn't mean I approve of it) because the legislation imposes fines *for being unable* to provide the requested data. The protocols, encryption mechanisms and other characteristics of Telegram operation are entirely under Telegram control so if they choose to implement and operate something that renders them unable to comply with the law then that is their problem.

    A UK court would make exactly the same ruling under these circumstances. You cannot use a force majeure defence if the force in question is entirely of your own making. Telegram have a defence in the case of secret chats (peer to peer) conducted via software released prior to this legislation, but they have no defence for continuing to allow encrypted communication via their central servers. They have had ample time since the legislation was enacted to switch to fully plaintext messaging with perpetual logging.

    That's as far a this court is supposed to go. The Judiciary are not there to set policy or amend Legislation, they are there to rule on the law as it stands. There may well be a conflict between the legislation and the constitution, but that is a question for the Constitutional Court not the District Court.

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    There's a large rabbit hole out there that governments are finally leaping into. They all seem to want a backdoor to encryption except for their own (the government's) equipment. Without a concerted effort (and a united one by ALL countries) to shut down the criminals who would attack and grab data, it won't work. As yet, many governments haven't put in the effort to crack down and punish the hackers.

    I won't even go there as far as country to country hacking (say Russian to US) as that's even a bigger mess since much is government sponsored. Same for such things as NSA wanting a backdoor here in the States.

    1. Andy 97

      The concerted "global effort" to stop the illegal drugs trade didn't appear very successful.

      Your country has very draconian punishment for those convicted of production, supply and financial service.

      What would the US do differently to stop cracking?

  4. Bob Dole (tm)
    FAIL

    Sounds like..

    Sounds like Russian courts are actually doing exactly what they are supposed to.

    I have to admit that I am somewhat saddened to find that recent Russian activities make far more sense than those in my own country. Who would have ever thought that Putin would seem like a thoughtful and moderate voice in the world when compared to a US President?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "He indicated his intention to appeal"

    And if there is any chance of succeeding, the FSB will "initiate an operation aimed at preserving their law enforcement powers", by removing his ability to walk in to the court room...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pavel Durov make a PR only

    Before Pavel Durov wrote about Russia: "We don't care if specific countries press charges against us for defending the privacy of our users. We are always ready to cut all our personal and business links to such places so that they don't have any leverage on us."

    But yesterday, Pavel Durov did not send lawyers to the court, then he accepted Russian jurisdiction and said that he was going to contest this judgment. Only yesterday Durov STARTED TO FIND a lawyers. So he didn't have lawyers at the past. Thus he lead the Telegram development in St.Petersburg (Russia) without any sound judicial advises.

    The point of the July request from KGB was to give information on 6 phone numbers, by Russian laws. And while Pavel Durov was the CEO at VK.com, he executed such requests and did not say that they violate the Constitution of Russia.

    Also Pavel Durov sued senior tech lead for $ 1.7 million for disclosure of Telegram job title on Facebook. And today Durov's representatives did not come to this court hearing too. So, Durov deals only with PR, he does not care about freedom of speech, privacy or real security. Maybe he wants to sell the project.

    https://theoutline.com/post/2348/what-isn-t-telegram-saying-about-its-connections-to-the-kremlin

  7. nerdif

    A token fine, to lull onlookers into believing there is no collusion between the two

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