Telegram is an online messaging app that is free, fast and most importantly offers end-to-end encryption, ensuring your chatting session remains hidden from any prying eyes. Some might think that such a service is hailed across the globe as the pillar of free speech, yet many countries stand against it, claiming that Telegram overshadows local messaging clients or provides a tool for terrorists. For this reason the app faces restrictions, censorship and even banning in certain areas of the world.
Russia has been in a significant number of headlines when it decided to block Telegram across the whole country. The decision was made by the Russian court, preceded by a long back and forth between the country’s Federal Security Service and Telegram. Apparently Russia saw the app as an open communication channel for terrorists and wanted a backdoor key to the encryption, which was ultimately denied by the company. History seems to have repeated itself here, as the same situation happened between the FBI and Apple and had the same results. The ban will probably take effect in May 2018 and will last until Telegram gives in, which will most likely never happen.
It wasn’t much of a surprise when Iran instituted a nationwide ban on Telegram shortly after Russia. They had already tested the waters in January 2018 when the country issued a temporary block on both Telegram and Instagram because citizens were using them as a platform for their protesting. Placing a permanent ban on the app was a bold move on the government’s part, considering that it has over 40 million users in the country. Citizens are encouraged to support the local communication platforms instead, such as iGap or Soroush.
When it comes to gating off content or access to certain services, China cannot be left out from the party. In fact, Telegram has been on the country’s blacklist since 2015, after the local servers were targeted by a DDoS attack. Before it was eliminated, Telegram was very popular among journalist, lawyers and human right activists. Just like Iran, China also states that they shut down the app to cultivate home-grown solutions – which are unsurprisingly easier to be monitored by the government.
For a brief amount of time during the summer of 2017, the Indonesian Communication and Information Ministry placed a temporary ban on eleven Telegram servers, threatening the company that it would ban all access unless they exercise self-censorship about any negative content. Since Telegram agreed to do so, the ban was lifted and Indonesia’s citizens can use the app freely to their heart’s content.
In June 2016 several Telegram users living in Bahrain noticed that they could not see their messages anymore. It quickly turned out that three of the country’s ISPs (Batelco, Viva, and Zain) were secretly blocking access to the app. Considering the popularity of Telegram among the country’s dissidents, the government may have instigated the elusive ban to prevent protestors from communicating.
Circumventing Censorship With VPNs
Telegram is seemingly losing ground worldwide due to particular countries denying their citizens access to the service. However, privacy-concerned citizens know that regional blocks can easily be overcome with a VPN. Virtual Private Networks use a similar encryption method, but they reroute your internet traffic through a foreign server, which in turn masks the IP and unblocks previously unavailable sites and services. Most VPN providers offer browser add-ons and smartphone apps as well, meaning you can stay free and safe from regional censorship while traveling.
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