On Saturday, internet providers and wireless carriers in Brazil lifted their ban on Telegram following a federal judge’s partial revision of a ruling that suspended the social media app. The suspension was due to Telegram’s refusal to surrender data on neo-Nazi activity. However, the judge retained the daily fine of $1 million reais, approximately $200,000, for the company’s failure to provide the data.
According to a press statement from the federal court that issued the ruling, the judge believed that a complete suspension of the app would be unreasonable and negatively impact the freedom of communication for thousands of unrelated users. The temporary suspension of Telegram was initiated during a police investigation into school shootings in November, where a former student killed three people and injured 13 others in two schools in Aracruz, a small town in Espirito Santo state.
According to a statement from the court, the 16-year-old responsible for the November school shootings in Aracruz, Brazil, was allegedly a member of extremist channels on Telegram where bomb-making and murder tutorials were being shared. In response, the Federal police ordered Telegram to provide the names, tax identity numbers, profile photos, bank information, and registered credit cards of the members of these channels. Telegram disputed the order, claiming it was “technologically impossible” to comply since the media had already been suspended.
Background on clashes of Telegram with Brazilian Judiciary
In an online FAQ, Telegram has never shared user data with any government. However, it’s still being determined how much of the requested information Telegram can provide, as only a phone number is required to create an account, and pseudonyms are often used. In addition, Telegram has offered an anonymous number of reports since December. The company’s founder and CEO, Pavel Durov, released a statement saying they were appealing the Brazil-wide ban, citing their commitment to privacy and free speech.
The recent court statement on the suspension of Telegram in Brazil pointed out the app’s “past clashes with the judiciary” in the country. In 2020, a Supreme Court Justice ordered a nationwide app shutdown, citing its lack of cooperation with authorities. The shutdown was lifted after two days when Telegram’s CEO blamed the lack of response on a communications issue.
Judge Flávio Lucas, who partially lifted the recent suspension of Telegram in Brazil, stated that technology companies must understand that cyberspace cannot be a free territory with its own rules created and managed by its agents who commercially exploit it.
Telegram’s history of government bans and scrutiny
Brazil has been dealing with a wave of school attacks, with almost two dozen attacks or violent incidents happening in schools since 2000, half of them in the past 12 months alone. The Brazilian government has been working towards eliminating school violence, mainly focusing on social media’s role in inciting violence.
Regulation of social media platforms was a recurring topic in a recent meeting between Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justices, governors, and mayors.
Telegram has been blocked in other countries, including Iran, China, and Russia. Despite the Kremlin’s crackdown on speech and Western media, Telegram’s CEO, Pavel Durov, has managed to coexist with the Russian government. So-called “patriotic” hackers loyal to the Kremlin use the app to organize cyberattacks on Ukrainian and NATO targets, while others use it to fight back.
Like many social media platforms, Telegram has been a concern for security researchers and intelligence agencies due to the potential for criminal and terrorist activity. Some groups use the app to spread disinformation or incite violence, while others utilize it to coordinate attacks or share illicit materials such as child pornography.
Security researchers and intelligence agencies regularly monitor certain Telegram groups in response to these concerns. They focus on tracking ransomware gangs, other cybercriminals, and individuals and groups known to spread disinformation or incite violence. Terrorist groups have also used the app to communicate and coordinate their activities.
Security researchers and intelligence agencies closely monitor specific Telegram groups, targeting ransomware gangs and other cyber criminals, disinformation spreaders, terrorist groups, and those who incite violence.