The team behind the Telegram secure messaging app on Wednesday reported that it had shut down 78 channels, across 12 languages, used by ISIS and its supporters. However, the app’s privately used channels weren’t affected by the sweep.
After the attacks on Paris last weekend, for which ISIS has claimed responsibility, the Telegram team learned via reports sent to [email protected] that the terrorist group had been communicating openly on its secure messaging platform.
Telegram has emphasized that it has no intention of blocking free speech, including opinions that are critical of a government entity.
“While we do block terrorist (e.g. ISIS-related) bots and channels, we will not block anybody who peacefully expresses alternative opinions,” reads a post on the Telegram channel.
In addition to blocking communications threatening public safety, Telegram will block pornography from distribution in countries where such content is illegal.
Those moves will keep off some regulatory heat, but monitoring activities on public broadcast and shutting down inappropriate or illegal communications “flies in the face” of the level of privacy the company has promoted to users, observed Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.
“Plus, there’s nothing to keep users from creating new channels, resulting in a never ending cat-and-mouse game for service providers,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Frankly, I’m not sure there is any practical way for messaging firms to ensure privacy features aren’t being abused.”
Privacy vs. Public Security
As long as men and women walk the earth, there will be bad actors. Telegram has been tiptoeing along the line separating privacy and security, because it isn’t always possible to have the two overlap comfortably, as evidenced by ISIS’ abuse of the platform.
That said, Telegram’s response to ISIS provides a model for other companies that offer secure communications, suggested Scott Borg, director and chief economist for the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit.
That model entails keeping communications secure and encrypted to preserve the right to privacy, said Borg. However, it also entails stopping obvious bad actors from using the system, which can prevent abuse of the right to privacy.
“Organizations like ISIS will always be able to communicate in secure, encrypted ways,” Borg told the E-Commerce Times, “but preventing them from using the more convenient applications that facilitate secure communications will slow down their communications, increase their operating costs, and make it much more likely that they will slip up.”
One of the most effective strategies for dealing with terrorists is finding ways and means to increase their operating costs, he pointed out.
“All these organizations have limited resources,” Borg said. “Even if they have a lot of money, they still have a limited number of agents with limited skills and limited time.”
Whenever terrorists are hit in their pockets, their ability to accomplish their goals is diminished, he maintained.
“Measures such as those by Telegram could be a significant drain on the operational resources of a terrorist organization,” noted Borg. “Anything that impedes the ability of a group like ISIS to operate, even if it only does so to a limited degree, can result in fewer lives being lost.”