Encrypted Messaging App Telegram Blocks Terror-Related Channels Amid Rising Security Concerns

The co-founder of encrypted messaging service Telegram announced on Sunday (16/07) that the app has blocked access to all public channels that the Indonesian government believes contains terror-related propaganda. (Reuters/Thomas White)

By : Alin Almanar & Tabita Diela | on 6:00 PM July 16, 2017
Category : News, Featured

Jakarta. The co-founder of encrypted messaging service Telegram announced on Sunday (16/07) that the app has blocked access to all public channels that the Indonesian government believes contains terror-related propaganda.

Pavel Durov, co-founder and chief executive of Telegram, said the messaging app has established a team of moderators who have a good understanding of Indonesia and its language to better detect and and delete terrorism propaganda.

Durov's comments come following the government's move on Friday to limit access to the app, threatening a total ban in the future if the service fails to clamp down on material it deems dangerous.

Durov, who founded the app with his brother Nikolai in 2013, said: "A lot of Telegram's early adopters come from Indonesia," and now the messaging service has "several million users" in the country.

"I am personally a big fan of Indonesia – I’ve been there a few times and have many friends there. So it made me upset to hear that the Indonesian Ministry of Communication and Information Technology suggested they would have to block Telegram in Indonesia," Durov said in a message to his roughly 40,000 followers on Telegram.

He said ICT Ministry officials recently emailed the company a list of public channels that the ministry suspected of being a haven for terrorism-related content.

"Our team was unable to quickly process them [...] Unfortunately, I was unaware of these requests, which caused this miscommunication with the ministry," Durov added.

The Russian entrepreneur said Telegram responded to the ICT Ministry to set up a direct channel of communication to allow both sides to work "more efficiently on identifying and blocking terrorist propaganda in the future."

The ICT Ministry announced on Friday it was blocking access to the heavily encrypted platform on concerns that it was being used to spread "radical and terrorist propaganda" in the world's largest Muslim-majority nation.

National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian told reporters on Sunday that Telegram is a favored application for terrorists and terror sympathizers, due largely to the app's heavily encrypted system that can accommodate up to 10,000 members in individual channels, making it hard for authorities to detect any terrorism-related messaging.

Tito said perpetrators involved in the suicide bombing on the Kampung Melayu bus station in East Jakarta in May and the attack in Thamrin, Central Jakarta in January 2016 used Telegram to coordinate the attacks.

"[...] We want to pin them [terrorists] by banning Telegram. We'll also seek if they use other communications channels. We'll also want to see how this [ban] affects them. Everything will be evaluated," Tito said.

Privacy-Oriented but No Friend of Terrorists

Despite championing privacy for its users, Dubrov said Telegram has been involved in a war to fight terrorists by making it difficult for them to communicate on its platform.

"Telegram is heavily encrypted and privacy-oriented, but we’re no friends of terrorists – in fact, every month we block thousands of ISIS-related public channels and publish the result of this work in @isiswatch," Durov said in his comment, referring to an alternative moniker for Islamic State.

As of July 14, Telegram has banned 3,169 Islamic State-related bots and channels in the first two weeks of this month alone.

"We’re constantly striving to be more efficient at preventing terrorist propaganda, and are always open to ideas on how to get better at this," he said, adding he is confident that both Indonesia and Telegram can efficiently eradicate terrorist propaganda without disrupting millions of Telegram users in the country.

The ministry's director for information application, Sameul Pangerapan, told the Jakarta Globe on Friday there had been "data collecting and correspondence" with Telegram prior to blocking access to it.

The ministry previously requested Internet service providers block access to 11 domain name systems of Telegram, while the app's desktop version can no longer be accessed.

However, as outlined in its code of conduct, the ICT Ministry cannot request a ban or block on any web portal, but instead only processes requests from other government institutions. It is not yet clear which government agency or ministry made the initial request to the ministry to block access to Telegram's web portal.

The ministry said in a statement on Friday that many Telegram channels "contain radical and terrorist propaganda, hatred, ways to assemble bombs and launch attacks, and disturbing images."

Telegram also offers "Secret Chat," which uses end-to-end encryption and leaves no traces on its servers.

The director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, Sidney Jones, told the Jakarta Globe on Saturday that Telegram "is considered safe, even though many governments have the technology to read it."

She pointed out that the platform has indeed been used to spread radicalized messages and has served as a place of recruitment for terrorists.

In December last year, police foiled a suicide bomb attack on the State Palace in Jakarta, in which the attackers, according to Jones, coordinated with handlers in Syria to carry out the attack.

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