Roskomnadzor blocked Zello app used by striking truckers

Roskomnadzor blocked Zello app used by striking truckers

Zello Inc believes the requirements imposed on it by Roskomnadzor are ‘absurd’, and asks the department not to block the service before considering the company's appeal.⁠

Roskomnadzor has blocked the walkie-talkie application for smartphones Zello, actively used by truckers protesting against the Platon system for communication and coordination. The initiation of restriction of access to the services of Zello Inc. (application developer) was announced on Monday, April 10 on the agency's website.

“Roskomnadzor has initiated the procedure of restricting access to information systems of Zello Inc. The company had failed to provide information for inclusion in the register of information disseminators within the term established by law, ignoring the requirements of the supervisory authority,” the message says.

An organizer of information distribution must forward to the supervisory service a notice containing the required information within five working days from the date of receipt of the request of Roskomnadzor. Zello Inc. have not provided a notice. March 15, 2017, a notice was sent to the company about the non-fulfillment of the responsibilities of an organizer of information dissemination, and a 15-day period was determined for their fulfillment, but there was no response again.

In accordance with the federal law ‘On Information, Information Technology, and Information Protection,’ operators are to restrict access to Zello Inc.’s services in Russia. The access to the website zello.com and the Zello service will be blocked.

Roskomnadzor has sent the Russian telecom operators a request to block the application; they must comply with it within 24 hours, the supervisory authority’s representative Vadim Ampelonsky told RBC.

Founder of Zello considers the law’s requirements to be absurd from the technical point of view and refuses to fulfill them.

Zello is a cross-platform application emulating a walkie-talkie on a smartphone; it allows to create channels for communication and stay focused on driving without getting distracted by texting. The upcoming blocking had been previously reported on Zello’s Twitter account, and there are recommendations to users posted on the company’s website.

As mentioned in the blog, the number of active users of Zello in Russia is more than 400 thousand people; the free application is used daily for mutual assistance of drivers on the road, search and rescue operations, taxi services, for citizens to provide assistance to law enforcement bodies, organization of peaceful protests, discussing socially important topics, finding friends, and communicating.

According to Zello founder Aleksey Gavrilov, Article 10.1, added to the law 149 ‘On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection,’ sets a number of unrealistic conditions before ‘the organizers of information dissemination on the Internet,’ in particular, the requirement to store a copy of all messages for half a year, as well as to ‘permit wiretapping of communications’ and ‘provide the law enforcement authorities with the encryption keys necessary to decode any messages.’ This purportedly broad concept extends to all social networks, messengers, e-mail providers, and even online-forums.

“Formal reason for the adoption of this law was the fight against terrorism, but in reality, it can be used to selectively block any unwanted Internet service. Earlier, the social network Linkedin was blocked; Zello is the next target; tomorrow it’s Twitter, Facebook or Telegram,” Gavrilov noted.

According to him, the article’s requirements are “not only absurd from a technical point of view, but also contrary to the principles of Zello, so we won’t implement them.” Gavrilov asked users to support the app by sending a complaint to Roskomnadzor.

After the news of blocking broke, the company explained that the requirement of Roskomnadzor to keep a copy of all the messages would entail “a multiple increase in the number of servers and deprive the company of the opportunity to offer free service.”

“All voice, text, and graphic information in Zello is transmitted directly between devices, and is only stored on clients’ devices to ensure privacy of communication, reduce the cost of the service, and ensure scalability,” the message, cited by Novaya Gazeta, says.

Zello Inc believes that the demands made by Roskomnadzor are ‘absurd,’ and ask the agency not to block the service before considering the company's appeal. “This will entail an illegal infringement of the constitutional rights of more than 400,000 active Zello users in Russia for freedom of speech and information dissemination,” the company representatives said.

Journalists had previously linked the possible blocking with the pressure exerted on the striking drivers. In Dagestan, where the action had become the most widespread, the truckers’ rally has been blocked by the National Guard. The protesters complain about provocations organized by persons acting in the interests of the authorities, including the shooting with traumatic weapons, which was orchestrated to justify the use of force against protesters.

On April 5 in Moscow, the leader of Dagestani truckers Rustam Mallamagomedov was detained upon leaving the press conference devoted to the strike. He was released from the police without charge on the same day.

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